You will see from previous posts that I have been on the Mindfulness MSc at Bangor University for the past year. This will be the tenth post that comes in that Bangor MSc category. If you were to read through all the older posts you would see that I have become disenchanted with the course and will not be surprised that I am stopping. I have now completed the Foundation module and the Research module and have sufficient marks to exit the course with a Post Graduate Certificate in Mindfulness Approaches.
The Crux Of It
The course is highly focussed on the eight week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) interventions as initiated by Jon Kabat-Zinn some thirty years ago. There are differences between the interventions but from 20,000 feet they are so similar you can treat them as being the same. I’ll just say “8wk course” from now on.
The Foundation module is an expanded 8wk course stretched over the three terms of the academic year but taught over the five teaching weekends at Bangor. Normally when one does an 8wk course for real one would meet every week for a two and a half to three hour session. Doing it on the foundation means that those hours have to be fitted in to five 9-4:30 working days taking up approximately half of the teaching time. When the logistics of a large group are taken into account this means there are only a couple of hours on each teaching weekend when you are not ‘doing’ an 8wk course and actually talking/learning about the course. There are also five phone tutorials which I was never clear about whether they were talking about doing the 8wk course or the 8wk course.
The bottom line is that there is virtually no discussion as to the how and why of any of the elements of the course. There was simply no time for it. If I said “Why do we do X and not Y?” then I felt like I was rocking the boat and stopping the tutors from delivering the learning outcomes for the other students – and these learning outcomes were the same as the learning outcomes of the 8wk course itself.
I decided to leave after I carefully asked my tutor “Are the Teaching modules just training courses in how to deliver the 8wk course or do we get to discuss the format more?” She missed my heavily emphasised “just” and responded that, yes, they were very much training course for delivery of the 8wk course.
This contrasted strongly with the Research module in which we were exploring and discussing what might work and even what we meant by ‘work’. The research module was really academic and it was, in my mind, really Buddhist because everything was up for grabs. If you don’t apply healthy doubt to everything you aren’t really on the path.
As an example when I expressed doubts about the structure of the 8wk course on the Foundation module it would be pointed out that it is evidence based and has been shown to work. At the very same time on the Research module I am reading that it has not been show to have a significant effect compared to active controls and there has certainly been no comparison between different ways of teaching mindfulness. Only the other day I was reading about effects of mindfulness meditation not being shown to be significantly different from TM! of all things. I’m not saying this is a definitive study. I am not saying mindfulness meditation isn’t the answer to all our ills. I certainly believe it is but I am trying to be a scientist and one has to be very careful not to believe ones own hype.
On top of this I was wrestling with the fact that some elements of the 8wk course just didn’t work for me at an experiential level and I couldn’t see them working for many people I know. Thinking back to how I have been taught to meditate with the FWBO or the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives or Community of Inter-being or my wife’s stories about the Goenka Vipassana method I can see threads running through these approaches that would be useful but that are lacking in the 8wk course and I can see things in the 8wk course that come from its psychology origins that are irrelevant.
So I don’t want to be trained to deliver the 8wk course because I don’t believe it is the best way for me to deliver mindfulness. It is a way to introduce people to mindfulness but not necessarily the best way for everyone. Because I don’t want to do the Teaching modules (of which there are two) I can’t gain enough credits to do a research project which is what interests me most and there is no route through to an MSc or MA.
It is odd because re-reading books by Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli I don’t get the feeling of rigidity that I get from the teaching process at Bangor. I wonder if the 8wk course is becoming ossified there – but I don’t have the experience of other centres to tell. There was so much emphasis on people developing their own practices during the foundation that it worried me. It should have been taken as read that everyone had a solid personal practice of a good few years standing but the experiences many people were reporting sounded as if concerted practice was new to them – but then hey! I’m no Zen master!
On the broader matter of teaching secular mindfulness outside of Buddhism things have become clearer for me. I likened mindfulness on its own to a one legged spider crawling across the floor. It is a very sad vision and is going to take a long time to get anywhere. Compare this to a spider that has eight legs – one for each of the parts of the Noble Eight Fold Path. She can happily scuttle across the floor and up the curtains just like that.
Of the legs missing from the poorly spider I think the most important is the first one in the eight fold Buddhist path which is Right View. I believe Thich Nhat Hanh has recognised this and westernized it into his notion of inter-being. He’s a clever guy. If I teach meditation I need to include notions of inter-being.
You may be reading this as a kind of review of the Bangor course prior to applying which would be a shame because it is really just my personal, biased opinion and your experience may be very different. I couldn’t distill this down into an Amazon star rating form 1-5.
I would, however, recommend you did the course if the following things are true:
- You have a real solid practice. You will know if you have.
- You have recently done an 8wk MBSR/MBCT course and enjoyed it.
- You think the 8wk course format is the way you would want to teach mindfulness.
You will meet some wonderful, dedicated people, have a lot of fun and learn about yourself and others – I certainly did.
If you are a one-to-one therapist then I’m not sure I can give any advice at all because you could do a different route through the course but you would still have to do the Foundation and maybe Teaching 1 so you should be really comfortable with the 8wk course format.
I hope this is of some help.