Clients who ruminate often think of it as a helpful problem-solving tool – that if they dwell on a problem long enough, they’ll gain new insight into how to fix it.
But as we know, rumination can keep clients stuck in cycles of depression and self-doubt.
So, in the video below, Christine Padesky, PhD will share 3 specific questions that can help clients ease patterns of obsessive negative thoughts. She’ll also walk us through a mindfulness exercise that’s intended specifically to replace rumination.
Have a look.
Instead, I’ll start ruminating about something that has recently happened or that’s coming up, “Oh, what am I gonna say when I do this interview for the practitioner series.” I’ll have to think about that and maybe I just start ruminating about it, and I’m not really making any forward progress. I’m not writing anything down, I’m not taking any steps. Really what I’m doing is I’m avoiding working on writing my paper. We want to find out, am I avoiding something? If I’m avoiding something, I want to put my energy into doing something about the thing that I’m avoiding.
The answer to these questions about rumination are – Is it time to be thinking about this? Am I avoiding something? How long have I been thinking about this?
In general, once we establish that someone is doing unhelpful rumination, I generally give them like a two to three minute. I let them choose, “Do you want to have two minutes, three minutes? How much rumination do you want to do before you stop?” We literally give it a time limit and say, “At the end of three minutes, if you’re not actively problem solving, coming up with steps that are useful, then I want you to stop thinking about this and go do something. It can be something very mundane and practical like go do the dishes, or it can be something like take a walk, or it can be tuned into your sensory experiences.”
Because getting people out of their heads and into the world around them is really one of the best antidotes to rumination. I want people to get engaged with something and really pay attention to that thing. If they say, “I’m going to go for a walk,” then I’m going to say to them, “Now, how are you going to make sure you’re not ruminating when you’re walking? ‘Cause I can walk and ruminate at the same time and I’m sure you can too.” Then we’ll talk about what else could you do.
An experience I often give people is a mindfulness exercise where I’ll say to them, “Okay, while you’re out walking, I want you to play the five senses game. So I want you to notice one visual sight that you really like, and then I want you to look at that and really enjoy seeing it for a minute or two. And then I want you to go to another sense, you know, maybe find one smell you really enjoy, get up close to that smell, enjoy it. Then I want you to get one sensation. Is it the sun on your cheeks, or the breeze on your face, or is it the feel of your feet crunching on leaves or snow? And I want you to really pay attention to that and really enjoy it. And we can go tastes.” I’ll always take myself to an ice cream store if I can.”
We’ll go through the different senses and get people focusing on their sensory experiences rather than ruminating about something in their head. Usually about 10 minutes of doing some kind of activity with sensory focus is enough to get people engaged in something else.
For more expert strategies on working with depression, check out this training featuring Marsha Linehan, PhD; Pat Ogden, PhD; Richard Schwartz, PhD; Bessel van der Kolk, MD; and other leaders in the field.
Now we’d like to hear from you. How have you helped a client with depression break a rumination habit? Let us know in the comments below.