Online Exclusives

Exploring the connection between mindfulness and differentiation of self

Heather Rudow February 11, 2013

AppelAttendees of next month’s 2013 American Counseling Association Conference & Expo in Cincinnati will be treated to a new series of conference sessions aimed at shedding light on research that uniquely benefits clients. 

Called the Client-Focused Research Series, these 30-minute presentations aim to increase awareness of research that focuses on improving the services that professional counselors provide to clients.

In the weeks leading up to the conference, Counseling Today is speaking with some of the presenters about their research and why they believe it is particularly beneficial. Next up are Dohee Kim-Appel and Jonathan Appel, a married couple who will be presenting on “The Relationship Between Bowen’s Concept of Differentiation of Self and Measurements of Mindfulness.” Dohee is an associate professor of art therapy and counseling at Ursuline College and Jonathan is an associate professor of psychology and criminal justice at Tiffin University.

What would you like attendees to take away from your session?

The quality of our family relationships colors much of our mental and emotional development, our ability to balance reactive emotions with constructive thinking and our ability to be mindful of ourselves and others. Our hope is for attendees to view the connection between some mindfulness constructs and other therapeutic conceptual models; in this case, a construct well known in the family counseling literature — “Bowen’s Model of Differentiation of Self.” We hope one walks away with the knowledge of how central family relationships are to our mental health.

Why is it important for counselors to understand mindfulness and Bowen’s Concept of Differentiation of Self?

The skill of mindfulness suggests that one would be accurately aware of the present moment in the surrounding environment: one’s emotions, relationships [and] self-motivations. Educational and counseling techniques that induce mindfulness are increasingly being employed in psychotherapy and counseling and in self-help programs to understand and alleviate a variety of mental and even physical conditions. Our current research found mindfulness is very connected to the concept of “differentiation of self,” or the ability to relate with others without losing one’s healthy sense of self or becoming too emotionally overwhelmed by others. 

How did you first get interested in this topic?

It seemed to naturally develop from past and present interests. Dohee’s dissertation studied Bowen’s Differentiation of Self, [but as it relates to] the elderly. She also had an article on this topic published.

Then, on our last trip to Korea, we had a chance to spend time at a Buddhist monastery in the mountains, which sparked a newer research interest — mindfulness, a concept rooted in Buddhism. We were interested in how this Eastern concept had exceedingly been applied in the West — through psychotherapy and counseling. We ended up having a long conversation with a monk at the temple. A natural outgrowth was the development of a connection between past interests and ideas with new thoughts. It was a natural progression to join the two topics: differentiation of self and mindfulness.

What inspired you to present this session at the conference?

Experience has taught us that the real joy of learning comes as a result of expressing and dialoguing ideas with others. The ACA Conference is the ideal setting in which to do this. Ursuline College has been very supportive in this work and has encouraged involvement with ACA and the counseling profession.

Did anything surprise you as you were compiling information for your session?

Two things surprised us. There are different ways in which mindfulness is being defined and measured in the literature, and being able to work with each other on this — and other projects — is still truly a joy after 14 years of marriage. Our relationship brings the material alive for us. 

Who do you feel is the best audience for this session?

We hope everyone is able to get something out of it, from students to teachers to counselors to researchers. Those are all roles we have had. In many ways we are still students learning and thinking out loud when we present.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The entire world is our classroom, in which we are constantly learning. We both feel it is a privilege we are able to do what we do.

 Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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