Competence in Related Fields
Competence in the Workplace
Foundational and Specific Competence
Competence in the Context of Mindfulness-Based Teaching
Competence and the Underlying Philosophy of Mindfulness-Based Approaches
Competence and the Integrity of Mindfulness-Based Teaching Developments
Foundational and Speciality Competencies
How Might Mindfulness-Based Teaching Competence Develop?
Teaching is inappropriate, likely to compromise the safety of participants and to lead to negative therapeutic consequences. The trainee has not grasped the fundamentals of mindfulness-based teaching practice and does not recognise basic principles and rules. There is nonadherence to the program form.
Trainees operate in a state of rule learning and rule governedness. Preparation for teaching is likely to be dominated by memorising scripted responses to participants and bringing to mind a list of ‘teaching points’ to bring to class dialogues. Although aspects of competence are demonstrated at this stage, there are numerous substantive problems and an overall lack of consistency. Experience is needed to progress through this stage—underlining the importance of training programmes offering considerable time to practice skills with fellow trainees and receive feedback.
3. Advanced beginner
Having had opportunities to practice newly acquired skills in mindfulness-based teaching, trainees are able to more easily recall the ‘rules’ that need applying (i.e. the different steps within the sitting practice guidance, ways of opening up class dialogue following a practice) and are increasingly able to apply these in a more sophisticated way. The teaching process remains deliberative, and there are significant inconsistencies that require further development, but competencies are clearly demonstrated. Participants’ emotional and physical safety is adequately taken care of, and at a very basic level, the teacher is ‘fit for practice’—at this stage, the participants would not be harmed and are likely to have opportunities for learning.
The focus on context-free rules in the previous stages drains attentional resources and through increasing familiarity with the teaching process becomes far less necessary. Trainees at this stage move away from a predominant focus on applied problem solving and the application of learned rules towards an embodied engagement in the moment and a greater degree of fluid responsiveness. Although there are some inconsistencies and problems, the teaching is at a workable level of competence and is clearly ‘fit for practice’.
At this stage, the teacher has an intuitive ability to use learned patterns without decomposing them into component features and has an increased level of moment-by-moment responsiveness and flexibility. The teacher operates from direct contact with the arising of experience in self, in individual participants and in the group.
At this stage, the skill that the teacher has in teaching mindfulness is part of him/her as a person. While teaching, they are immersed in the process and no longer use rules, guidelines or maxims. She/he has deep tacit understanding of the teaching and is an original, flexible and fluid teacher. The breadth and depth of knowledge of the teacher at this developmental stage is an inspiration to others. At this stage, the teacher’s skills are consistent even in the face of strong difficulty such as participant hostility or strong emotion. The process is intuitive, and the teacher is unlikely to be able to easily articulate how he/she is teaching if asked.
Current Status of Methodologies for Assessing Mindfulness-Based Teaching Competencies
Accumulated experience gathered in the form of a portfolio or dossier which can include detailed narrative of session by session teaching processes including personal reflections on the experience, publicity materials, participant feedback forms and outcomes of evaluation/audit of the class. Teaching portfolios do not provide direct evidence of competencies but in our experience are useful accompaniments to other methodologies.
Given that the teaching process strongly relies on the teacher having a sophisticated capacity to attune to internal experience in the form of sensations, thoughts and emotions, the training programmes represented by the authors all include assessment of the particular style of reflective capacity required for mindfulness-based teaching.
All the postgraduate training programmes represented by the authors require trainees to produce written assignments on the theory and background underpinning MBSR and/or MBCT teaching. Commonly, these require students to synthesise their own experience with the literature on mindfulness-based teaching.
Explicitly inviting trainees to assess their competencies after teaching can be a way of actively engaging them in an exploration of their strengths and areas for development from a different perspective than receiving feedback from others. If trainees develop the capacity to engage in honest reflection of their own teaching, this will serve their ongoing development beyond their engagement in formal training processes.
The usual context for practising skills in the training group is with peer trainees. Peer feedback therefore becomes a key training tool and in itself is a skill which needs training so that the feedback is both honestly and sensitively offered. The process is mutual—in offering feedback, trainees are honing their understanding of the competencies required through a direct experience of what works well and less well.
Review of teaching by an expert panel via DVD recording or live observation
The Center for Mindfulness in Massachusetts offers ‘certification’ as an MBSR teacher (Center for Mindfulness in Medicine and Health Care and Society 2011), a process which is open to practitioners who have completed the range of Oasis MBSR training processes and which involves assessment of teaching competence via DVD recording by two experienced MBSR teachers. Although the criteria used for this assessment are not published, it does offer a marker that the teacher has made his/her teaching practice available for external scrutiny and has participated in a robust series of training processes.
All the postgraduate training programmes represented by the authors use review of teaching as an assessment methodology. The ‘unit’ of assessment is progressively developed during training programmes. In the early stages of training, students are assessed on their skill in teaching elements of the curriculum, whereas at the end, they are required to submit DVDs of an entire 8-week MBCT or MBSR course for review.
Use of ‘rating scales’ to measure adherence and/or competencies
Two scales have been developed to measure mindfulness-based teaching adherence and competencies—the MBCT adherence scale (Segal et al. 2002) and the Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention Adherence and Competence Scale (MBRP-AC) (Chawla et al. 2010). The MBCT adherence scale (Segal et al. 2002) is a 17-item scale designed to measure the teacher’s adherence to the treatment protocol—the scale does not address competence. The assessor carries out the relatively straightforward process of rating the presence/absence of core features of the approach via DVD observation of the teacher. The MBRP-AC is a measure of treatment integrity for mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP; Chawla et al. 2010). It was developed in the context of a randomized controlled trial and consists of two sections: adherence (adherence to individual components of MBRP and discussion of key concepts) and competence (ratings of therapist style/approach and performance). Assessments are made via audio recordings.
Whilst both these scales have clear utility in the contexts for which they were developed, they have a number of flaws in the context of assessing competence in training programmes. They are both model specific, whereas the training programmes we represent include a diversity of students implementing mindfulness-based approaches in a diversity of contexts; assessments in the context of training programmes need to account for both adherence to programme and teaching competence; the MBRP-AC assesses via audio recordings which does not enable assessment of the ‘visible’ aspects of the teaching process (nonverbal communication, posture and behaviour); both scales employ assessors who are not themselves teachers—in our view, assessing teaching competence requires proficiency in mindfulness-based teaching so that there is attunement to the subtleties of the process.