Thoughts on Teaching Mindfulness and Meditation
There are always questions about the necessary level of expertise, training, and personal meditation/yoga experience required for a person to self-identify as a teacher. Some differences of opinion exist, and some experts differentiate teaching mindfulness from teaching meditation. Some formal organizations have set their own standards; many of these appear to have dual status – to protect the public, and to support an already existing power/expertise hierarchy within the particular organization. Different schools of meditation, especially if affiliated with spiritual or religious practices, may present different qualifications for teachers. Just about all parties agree that to teach mindfulness or concentration and meditation or contemplation as part of a spiritual/religious path clearly requires formal training, many years of experience, and being in line for a dharma inheritance in a highly hierarchical system – in some views being an advanced monk in line to inherit (earn) your teacher’s robe and staff or formal readiness/worthiness recognition from the primary teacher, etc. The variation of opinions regarding qualifications probably fits the variation of existing meditation/yoga/spiritual schools, practices, and groups/sanghas. Becoming your teacher’s “Dharma Heir” – the recognized right to teach in her/his spiritual tradition is, perhaps, the most coveted and respected honor for any meditation or spiritual student.
Today with mindfulness becoming such a normative part of schools, clinical programs, and some corporations people would be very wise to consider very carefully the qualifications of the person/s doing your training. To note as an example, I heard recently from a public school administrator that he/she planned to have teachers who attended a workshop and then read a few books on mindfulness to teach such practices to the schools’s staff. In my mind such trainers ARE NOT qualified for this task! This is simply not a sufficient level of expertise to do this task. My encounters with “trainers” meeting this description has resulted in mindfulness being taught as purely a cognitive endeavor, which it is NOT. There is no embodiment practice in such training, and the trainers lack necessary personal experience in the practices they teach.
When another colleague asked for my opinion on this problem, I replied as follows.
Minimum Expertise Requirements for Teaching Mindfulness and/or Meditation/Yoga
- The trainer/teacher should have documentation for dharma inheritance (the Monk or formal teacher scenario) OR specific, supervised training and experience in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a specific form of Yoga, s specific form of meditation, or a specific form of spiritual practice.
- The trainer needs to have at least FIVE YEARS of personal practice/skill experience in the practice to-be-taught.
- There is need for extensive and formal documentation of self-learning experiences under one or more formal teachers in the specific area the trainer hopes to teach. Who did this trainer receive training from?
- The trainer must have formally evaluated retreat/workshop experience teaching in one or more settings (educational, clinical, higher education, spiritual or religious).
- The trainer may have published a research study, an article, or a book on the topic they wish to provide formal training in. Along with personal practice experience, this is a higher bar.
- The trainer needs at least three highly positive references from people who have received her/his training services at retreats and/or workshops.
- If the teacher provides spiritual or religious training to others (Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, and/or Islamic/Muslim, etc.), there must be clear documentation of formal training in that specific tradition from formal teachers.
By adhering to these standards (or as many as can be met), you will both protect the public and provide effective, meaningful training to others. If you wish to become a teacher, and you KNOW you do not meet recommended requirements, take formal steps to do so before you present yourself as a teacher of these practices and skills. In my mind, it is an ethical issue.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness
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