Dr. Matt Hersh, founder of The Thriving Therapist

Dr. Hersh is a psychotherapist, Certified Energy Psychologist, mindfulness teacher, & founder of The Thriving Therapist, a site devoted to helping the helpers. Learn more about us and check out our free resources, online courses, and workshops on self-care, work-life balance, burnout prevention, your thriving practice, & much more.

You’ve just finished a difficult session – your client was processing some very deep emotions around a traumatic incident from her childhood. When we, as therapists, turn toward brief practices like the 3-minute breathing space, we can help ourselves to mindfully let go, settle, and reset for the next client.

This post is designed to help mental health professionals take stock of and “reset” their thoughts, feelings, and intentions in between emotionally taxing appointments or throughout the normative challenges of our busy days.

Introducing The 3-Minute Breathing Space (3MBS)

Described below is a very user-friendly, brief, meditative “pause” button that we can all utilize during our busy days to help us gain a better awareness of what our interior experience is like before and after our therapy endeavors.

Originally devised by Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy creators, Dr. Mark Williams and colleagues, the 3-Minute Breathing Space is a type of mindful check-in. It’s a process wherein we intentionally, precisely, and non-judgmentally bring our awareness to whatever is happening in the moment. This can be within our field of thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.

But there’s a bit more to it, as we’ll find out below.

As it nestles under the larger umbrella of mindfulness practices, the 3MBS holds a certain uniqueness and power to it. Within this practice, we are instructed to engage in three discernibly different steps. Each of these steps focus on how the mind is engaging with itself, with the body, and with behavior.

The hourglass shape, as is shown in the image above, symbolizes the three stages of this practice. Starting with relatively broad awareness, our attention flows to a narrower focus on the breath found in the abdomen. Finally, we focus on a more expanded awareness of the entire body and to our intention to move forward in a particular way.

The 3MBS actually doesn’t have to take a full three minutes. But even if you set your alarm for just a minute or so after you end a given appointment, you can benefit just as much.  And, you will find that you can still accomplish those administratively, clinically, or personally practical activities like writing your progress note and using the bathroom (if that’s truly important to you :).

The 3-Minute Breathing Space: 3-Step Sequence

       1. Broad Awareness of Thoughts, Feelings, and Sensations
  • Begin to notice, with as little judgment as possible, your thoughts and your thinking. Are the thoughts reflective of judging? wishful thinking? planning? worrying?  Whatever the thoughts sound or look like in your mind, it is Ok. You are simply noticing with as much acknowledgement and honoring as possible.
  • While sitting in your chair or wherever you currently are, arrange your body so that it reflects a state of “relaxed alertness” as well as a sense of dignity and self-respect. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable.
  • As you intentionally let go of your thought stream, begin to bring your attention to your feelings. Are you currently feeling angry? overjoyed? calm? hopeless? helpless? relieved? overwhelmed? Whatever the feeling(s) you notice is perfectly Ok and to be honored in those moments as best you can.
  • Gently letting go of the feelings, begin to notice the sensations in your body. How are the thoughts and feelings showing up in the form of sensory experiences? You may notice tingling in your extremities, tightness in your chest or muscles, quick-paced breathing, heat in your face, swirling in your stomach, stillness throughout your body, a certain calm in different parts of your body. All of what is noticed within your body is Ok and once again to be respected and honored for what it is.
       2.  Narrowed attention on the breath found in the rising and falling of your abdomen
  • As you gently let go of thoughts, feelings, and sensations, begin to intentionally focus your attention on your breathing, as you feel it in your abdomen. You may place a hand on your abdomen to more precisely notice the rising and falling of this region of your body as your breath flows in and out of your body.
  • This second step of the practice is where and when you intentionally narrow your attention to your breath and gently but firmly return your attention to the experience of breathing whenever your mind or body drifts off away from this breath-based anchor.
  • There is no “goal” during this step other than to gently but firmly direct your attention to your abdominal breathing. You are not trying to relax but rather to gather all your attention to your breathing and to simply notice the movement of your belly.
      3. Expanded Awareness of Full Body & Intention to Proceed Mindfully
  • Finally, you can intentionally release your narrowed attention on your breath and expand your awareness to your entire body.
  • You may notice what your full body feels like sitting in your chair. You may notice the entirety of your experience now, re-integrating disparate pieces of thought, feeling, and sensation.  You are whole, and you can notice this wholeness.
  • With compassionate intention, choose now how you would like to move forward with the next few moments, minutes, or hours of your day.

You may now intentionally choose to move forward in a particular way. You may choose the whole-hearted qualities of presence, empathy, compassion, and authenticity with which to shift into another task. And you may also choose to curiously notice your thoughts, feelings, or sensations during your next session. These “noticings” may very well be windows into what your client’s experience is like, and this can provide invaluable data for your next moments of therapeutic engagement.

Check out this guided recording of The 3-Minute Breathing Space. It’s straightforward and easy to use.

Please drop a comment below  – I’d love to hear how the 3-Minute Breathing Space is working out for you and how you integrate it into your busy work lives.

Until next time, may you be good to yourself and bring mindfulness to your busy day.

Be well,

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