As is often the case, the topic for this post is inspired by a client. A wonderful woman, processing co-dependency said in the middle of her session, “Give me a mantra, so I can remember what we worked on today.” That was actually easy, because all I had to do was reflect back to a wise insight she had offhandedly made earlier in the session: “When I stick to my boundaries I feel emotionally safer.” Her face lit up. “Yes! That’s exactly what I need to tell myself this week!”
The benefits of mantras.
What it underscored for me was the value of having mantras; simple phrases that can provide affirmation, encouragement, reinforce positive thinking, ego-strengthen, or remind clients to be self-protective or engage in self-care. Many clients are profoundly influenced by their internal running monologues, and it’s important to unpack what those messages are saying as they impact thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and behavioral choices. This is especially true when their self-talk is judgmental, shaming, and debilitating. But you can use the concept of self-talk in more positive ways by helping clients come up with a phrase that captures, crystalizes, and reminds them of whatever they need to do to stay grounded, present, hopeful, and safe, as the work unfolds in therapy.
When clients practice revisiting those mantras, you can encourage them to expand upon them in subsequent sessions, and at home, through verbal processing, art techniques, or journaling. But I find that clients also report value in simply saying those mantras- either silently, out loud, or in front of the mirror. The messages get reinforced and integrated. They start to feel “more real” and are more likely to lead to cognitive and emotional shifts. This gives clients a new experience of self-talk as empowering and healing. As I mentioned before the mantras that can be the hopeful little gems they take with them and revisit, often unwittingly come from the clients themselves. If you listen carefully, you can pause the work and reflect back what they’ve said whenever you hear an insightful statement that can be used as a mantra for the coming week. Below are some additional mantras you can suggest that might help to jumpstart the process for your clients:
- I have the right to be safe and to advocate for my needs.
- It’s my turn, and my time.
- Expressing my emotions is a sign of strength not weakness.
- I can only give to others when I first take care of myself.
- This current difficulty is just one chapter, not the whole book.
- I can allow myself to be vulnerable with trustworthy people.
- Once a day I will speak to myself with kindness.
- Today I’ll focus on what I can actually control or change, and let go of what I can’t.
Do you suggest the use of mantras for your clients? What are some mantras that you’ve suggested, and how do you think that clients benefit from their use?