a chapter of Mindfulness Ontario
From elementary schools to psychotherapy offices, mindfulness meditation is an increasingly mainstream practice. At the same time, trauma remains a fact of life: the majority of us will experience a traumatic event in our lifetime, and up to 20 percent of those who do will develop posttraumatic stress. This means that anywhere mindfulness is being practiced, someone in the room is likely to be struggling with trauma.
At first glance, this appears to be a good thing: trauma creates stress, and mindfulness is a proven tool for reducing it. But the reality is not so simple.
Drawing on a decade of research and clinical experience, psychotherapist and educator David Treleaven shows that mindfulness meditation—if practiced without an awareness of trauma—can exacerbate symptoms of posttraumatic stress. Instructed to pay close, sustained attention to their inner world, trauma survivors can experience flashbacks, dissociation, and even retraumatization.
This raises a crucial question for mindfulness teachers, trauma professionals, and survivors everywhere: How can we minimize the potential dangers of mindfulness for survivors while leveraging its powerful benefits?
Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness offers answers to this question. In Part I, Treleaven provides an insightful and concise review of the histories of mindfulness and trauma, including the ways in which modern neuroscience is shaping our understanding of both. Through grounded scholarship and wide-ranging case examples, he illustrates how mindfulness can help—or hinder—trauma recovery.
Part II distills these insights into five key principles for trauma-sensitive mindfulness. Covering the roles of attention, arousal, relationship, dissociation, and social context within trauma-informed practice, Treleaven offers thirty-six modifications designed to support survivors’ safety and stability. The result is a groundbreaking and practical approach that empowers those looking to practice mindfulness in a safe, transformative way.