Is happiness a state of mind?

Sunday, March 20, 2016


It’s the International Day of Happiness and the Action for Happiness pledge asks us to “try to create more happiness in the world around us." But how do we do that?

The Action for Happiness movement has created a guidebook that details 10 keys to happier living, noting that happiness is generally to do with our attitudes and relationships with other people. The 10 recommendations include:

·      Doing things for others

·      Connecting with people

·      Taking care of your body

·      Living life mindfully

·      Learning new things

·      Having goals to look forward to

·      Finding ways to bounce back

·      Looking for what’s good

·      Being comfortable with who you are, and

·      Being part of something bigger.  

Some of those things sound pretty self explanatory, but what does it mean to live life mindfully? Luckily, we have an expert in mindfulness right on our doorstep.

Dr Bruno Cayoun is a clinical psychologist in private practice, a Research Associate in the School of Nursing at the University of Tasmania, a Research Associate at the School of Psychology at the University of Technology Sydney, Monash University, and Massey University (NZ). He is also the Director of the MiCBT Institute. MiCBT stands for Mindfulness-integrated Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. The institute specialises in treatment, training and research.

Dr Cayoun says that mindfulness is a specific way of paying attention, as objectively as possible and free from personal judgements.

“We always make personal judgements,” he said, “our mind is trained to assess phenomena automatically according to our sense of self."

"When we experience a situation inside or outside ourselves, our mind misses most of the sensory aspects of it (seeing, hearing, touching, etc.) because it very quickly makes an evaluation that is mostly about likes and dislikes, according to who we think we are. This includes our needs, personality, culture, social identity and values. If the situation is found to be agreeable, it is neurologically wired (from the medial-prefrontal cortex to the insular cortex) to produce a pleasant sensation somewhere in the body. If the situation is judged as being disagreeable, it produces an unpleasant body sensation. The intensity of the body-sensation varies according to how we take things personally."

“Then we react based on our past learning. The stronger the body sensation (i.e., the consequence of having taken something personally), the stronger the reaction will be.”

Dr Cayoun said that these body sensations are mostly subconscious and pro-survival. Our nervous system is wired that way because our mind is conditioned to react with craving when we need to feed, procreate, or need the support of our social environment, and with aversion when we evaluate the situation as a threat to our survival, including social survival. 

"Unless we learn to observe these mechanisms for what they are, mindfully, this very predictable habit pattern of the mind is maintained. There may be a kind of survival there, but not much happiness."

“Mindfulness is about training the brain to remove those judgements and examine the stimuli without reacting… to be less driven by the need to protect our sense of self (our ego), less biased, more objective, to approach things like we try to do in science.”

Dr Cayoun has combined the practice of mindfulness and cognitive behaviour therapy to help patients with chronic pain, most types of anxiety and depressive disorders, and even some aspects of Schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. 

 “I teach my patients to observe their experiences without personal bias and without reaction. To feel the sensations but not react to it or to the stimulus.

“For example, most people don’t realise that the body does not have pain receptors. We have stimuli that send messages to the brain through nociceptive fibres to be classified as safe or unsafe. In chronic pain, this is a decision made according to past judgements and reactions. It is learned. I help my patients with chronic pain to train their brain to process the pain sensations as safe and prevent a pain response.”

In this instance, the patient is taught to ‘observe’ the painful sensation and describe it by detailing its mass, motion, temperature and fluidity/constriction. Essentially to study it like a scientist. By attending to the sensations objectively, rather than taking them personally and assuming they are a threat to who we are, the brain can be taught to interpret the stimuli more neutrally and decrease the need for reactivity. 

“The combination of mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy is very powerful. I have seen great success. In two 30-second increments patients reduce their chronic pain by about 50 per cent. After approximately two weeks of practice, they have learned to do it for themselves. After 2.5 months, their pain has further decreased significantly, independent of gender, source of referral, and type of pain, and without increase in their medication”.

Mindfulness is a tool for life that can be applied to all situations to improve your own happiness and that of those around you, according to Dr Cayoun. There are four stages in his mindfulness-integrated CBT training. 

1.     The Personal Stage, where you learn mindfulness skills, to notice and let go of unhelpful thoughts and emotions in order to address life’s challenges successfully.

2.     The Exposure Stage, where you apply your mindfulness skills to daily situations that you might be avoiding to prevent discomfort.

3.     The Interpersonal Stage, where you learn to develop better interpersonal understanding and communication skills in the face of tense situations, and learn not to react to others’ reactivity.

4.     The Empathic Stage, where you learn to increase your capacity to be kind to yourself and compassionate to others in your daily actions, leading to a deep sense of care and connectedness with people. 

While Dr Cayoun treats patients in his practice in Hobart, he has also made his research and approach more widely available in a new book: Mindfulness-Integrated CBT for Well-being and personal Growth: Four Steps to Enhance Inner Calm, Self-Confidence and Relationships.

"No matter what we do, we usually do it with the belief that it will either relieve us of unhappiness or increase our happiness. The problem is that even happiness leads to suffering when it is based on particular conditions. Simply because the conditions that allow us to be happy at any given time, sooner or later, will change. They are impermanent."

Dr Cayoun says that being mindful is a way to evolve our consciousness and experience things without anxiety, fear or emotion. 

" You can become aware of the things that make you unhappy and let go of them. You can learn to face potential conflicts smilingly. You can gain the ability to say yes or no without guilt and you can learn to avoid producing emotions that are destructive. Importantly, you can also learn compassion which allows you to feel and see how everything is connected, so that you can be less harmful to yourself and others. That’s how we move towards happiness."

MiCBT Children's Interest Group

Thursday, February 25, 2016

We are in the process of starting an international MiCBT Children’s Interest Group and would like to invite all registered Psychologists using MiCBT with children and young people (6-18) to join. 

The group, which will meet using Skype Group Video Call, aims to support practitioners in using MiCBT with children and young people and will include case discussions, research papers and opportunities to practice. If you are interested please reply to including your name and country you are based in. 

Sally, Boyd and Lily.

The project has been initiated by psychologists Lily Lee (Sydney), Sally Francis and Boyd Cowley (Melbourne Mindfulness Institute) and is supported by the MiCBT Institute (Tasmania, Australia).

Upcoming MiCBT courses - Brisbane - commencing next week

Thursday, February 04, 2016

These 8-week courses offer a structured method that effectively re-trains your brain and starts extinguishing unhelpful automatic thinking and reactive patterns. You’ll develop greater self-awareness and self-acceptance, the ability to settle yourself and stay calm, and be more assertive.   

The next 8-week MiCBT group course to take place in Capalaba is starting:

Tuesday 9th February 2016 (6-9pm) – Register by 4th Feb

The next 8-week MiCBT course to take place in Paddington (Brisbane) is starting:

Wednesday 10th February 2016 (6-9pm) – Register by 4th Feb

For more information about this MiCBT group, please contact us.

Please note that a fee is involved and that rebates (with Medicare or your health funds with extras cover for psychology) may be possible.

Call Patrea personally on 0410 264 224 for more details or to confidentially discuss your situation – or use the handy online contact form.

Bruno Cayoun’s MiCBT for Wellbeing and Personal Growth works underwater

Monday, December 07, 2015

SOURCE: Ruth Ostrow, The Australian, December 5 2015 



I’d just been to a lecture on pain management by Bruno Cayoun, one of the principal developers of mindfulness-integrated cognitive behaviour therapy.

Cayoun uses a simple technique that helps people diminish physical and psychological pain in less than four minutes. The process, discussed in his book MiCBT for Wellbeing and Personal Growth, has gained international recognition.

The day after the lecture, I was driving across Sydney Harbour. I always take the Harbour Bridge, which is a hassle, because I’m too scared to go into the tunnel under the ocean. When trapped in confined places without windows I sometimes have panic attacks that can cause hyperventilation and physical pain as blood vessels constrict.

As a passenger in the tunnel I can shut my eyes. But I won’t drive myself with eyes open. Coming up to the turn-off, I pondered: “Can I use the process to get me through my phobia?”

Before I knew it, I had taken the challenge and was driving into the tunnel.

“OMG. Wow. I’m OK, I’m doing it.” (Heart pounding.) “Only another minute or two to go … gonna be out soon …”

Nope. Suddenly a sign: “Breakdown ahead”. Which should have read “Nervous Breakdown ahead”. The traffic had ground to a halt. Unfortunately, my thoughts hadn’t.

“I’m under miles of water. What if this is a terrorist attack? What if it’s a crack and the water is going to pour in? Where is my asthma puffer? Oh no … no. I left it at home … I will suffocate here alone in the dark.” Then as if by miracle I heard my voice say: “Now! If you don’t do it NOW you never will.”

I shut my eyes and started to do Cayoun’s first step of deep breathing, initially struggling to get air into my tight chest. Followed by gently observing my physiology and the degree to which my thoughts were fuelling the adrenalin surges and pounding heart.

I saw the panic as if I were above it; I could name it, watch it, hear the catastrophising thoughts as they were screaming at me, but I was becoming more detached.

I kept going with other of his techniques and felt my breathing ease. I even felt myself smile: “I’m trapped in a tunnel under the sea during a time of high terrorism alert with claustrophobia. Could life get any better than this!”

I felt the adrenalin subside. I felt sleepy. The comedown that was like a sedative. I yawned. Twenty minutes later the lanes converged and we started moving towards the light. I’d done it.

It’s good to learn self-soothing techniques for the scary days ahead. If I can do it, anyone can.

The power of equanimity for pain reduction

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Written by  Bastian Fox Phelan in Wellness

“Pain is a serious health issue,” Dr Bruno Cayoun says.

Pain is complex and subjective, however it is required for survival. “Interestingly, there are no pain receptors and no pain fibres in your body,” Bruno says. “Pain is a response to the perception of threat.”

The medial prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for self-referential processing. It’s the part that ruminates, remembers past experiences and projects future experiences. When we’re engaged in a task, this part of the brain goes to sleep. However, when scientists studied people with chronic pain, they found that while engaging in concentration tasks, this part of the brain remained active. People who transition from acute to chronic pain have created links within the brain between the experience of pain and learning.

“So, can we unlearn pain?” Bruno asks. “Mindful studies have shown that chronic pain can be unlearned.” Mindfulness is heightened sensory awareness without identifying with or judging what you are experiencing.

However, not all clinicians are skilled enough in mindfulness to teach their patients who suffer chronic pain, and not all people with chronic pain want to sit down and contemplate their pain – “it really is hell sometimes,” Bruno says.

Bruno tells us about a study that aimed to extract the most active component of mindfulness – equanimity – and see whether this was something they could teach pain specialists, so they could teach their patients.

Scientists asked people in the study to observe their pain objectively. A mindful exercise involved observing and measuring the pain using very different characteristics: “Is it very heavy, very hot, very still, very dense, very loose, very tight? Does it move? What shape is it?”

Bruno shares with us the experience of a woman with chronic pain after a car accident. After doing the mindful exercise, she had a significantly lower estimation of the amount of pain she was in: 3 out of 10 on the pain scale rather than 6 to 9 out of 10. The next part of the exercise was to introduce an element of unconditional acceptance. Much of the ‘negative’ qualities (heavy, dense, hot) were diffused after this, and her pain was rated only 1 out of 10. Even after the exercise had finished, she said that the pain was gone. “For years, we have been teaching this approach for emotional regulation,” Bruno says. Because there are no pain receptors and no pain fibres, this also works for physical pain.

Looking at pain, for just 30 seconds each time, and continuing to practice this mindful exercise with pain was highly successful. “It may change habits that lead to chronification, especially if we start early, before chronification begins,” Bruno says, “It is also a cost-free practice.”

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