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Mindful : December 2018
earch “mindfulness instruction” online and you’ll come up with all kinds of offerings, from private practitioners to independent mindfulness programs. There are Yelp listings of the top 10 mind- fulness coaches and smart- phone listings of the 10 best mindfulness apps. More and more medical centers offer mindful- ness workshops; so do many colleges, univer- sities, and corporations. But how can anyone know if the people who are teaching mindful- ness are qualified? What does it even mean to be a qualified mindfulness teacher? ABOUT THE AUTHOR Peter Jaret is a frequent contributor to National Geographic, The New York Times, Health, and dozens of other periodicals. He is coauthor of Impact: From The Frontlines of Global Health and is a recipient of the AMA Award for journalism. 30 years has been very organic,” says Diana Winston, who directs mindfulness education at the University of California, Los Angeles’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. “The field has evolved without any kind of order. That’s been good in many ways. But now, really anyone can hang up a shingle as a mindfulness teacher. There’s no professional training required. A person with great marketing skills can start a successful practice with very little experience in mindfulness.” Susan Woods, who helped develop and set up the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy certifica- tion training curriculum for the Mindfulness- Based Professional Training Institute at the University of California, San Diego, agrees. “These days there are apps for learning mind- fulness. There are mindfulness programs that are just a couple of hours long. I see and hear of teachers who are doing things that are a very long way from what I would recognize as a mindfulness-based stress reduction program.” The challenge, many leaders agree, is to set standards for teaching teachers that maintain the highest quality of mindfulness instruction. To do just that, Winston, Dawa Phillips, and a small group of experienced teachers recently launched the International Mindfulness Teach- ers Association (IMTA). At first glance, its mis- sion sounds fairly uncontroversial—“ to oversee national and international mindfulness teacher education and training standards to ensure teaching and education programs continue to meet a level of depth and rigor needed to serve students and clients at the highest level and standardize the mindfulness teaching profes- sion.” But almost as soon as its website went live last year, the fledgling association sparked a furor within the normally calm and collegial mindfulness community. Instead of bring- ing clarity to the field, Lynette Monteiro, a cofounder of the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic in Canada, charged in an opinion piece in the mag- azine Tricycle, “IMTA has muddied the waters of existing professional certification processes.” In an open letter to the IMTA signed by 10 leading experts from around the world, members of the International Integrity Network wor- ried that the new association “will lead to added confusion in the field.” The writers accused → Teachers and leaders acknowledge the need for reliable standards. Counseling people about the mind carries the greatest possible level of responsibility. People interested in exploring mindfulness aren’t the only ones asking these basic questions. So are many leaders in the field of mindfulness meditation, who have raised concerns about maintaining the appropriate level of integrity among teachers, which many refer to by talking about “professionalism.” While not everyone is comfortable with the commercial and clini- cal connotations of mindfulness teaching as a profession, almost all teachers and leaders acknowledge the need for reliable standards, since counseling people about the mind car- ries the greatest possible level of responsibil- ity. “The growth of mindfulness over the past S December 2018 mindful 63 meditation