Posted 09.14.2020 | by AMRA

Psychological counseling as a profession can be emotionally taxing, and counseling trainees may experience compassion fatigue and elevated stress. Counseling training programs focus on teaching counseling skills, yet they often are insufficient to support trainee self-care and wellness.

Teaching trainees mindfulness may enhance their professional growth and increase their resistance to vocational stressors.

Chan et al. [Patient Education and Counseling] conducted a randomized crossover study to test the effects of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) on wellness and perceived vocational competencies among undergraduate counseling trainees.

The researchers randomly assigned 50 undergraduate counseling trainees (60% female; age range 18-23 years) at a Hong Kong university to either MBCT or a wait-list control. MBCT was delivered once per week for 8 weeks in 2-hour group sessions.

Trainees were assessed at baseline and 3 months on self-report measures of empathy, self-compassion, psychological distress, counseling self-efficacy, and mindfulness (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire). Self-efficacy assessed trainee self-confidence in applying helping skills (e.g., being attentive, listening, reflecting feelings, asking open-ended questions) and managing boundaries and problematic client behaviors.

Brain activity and physiology were also assessed. Trainees had their brain EEG frontal midline theta-wave activity (a measure of internal attention), and their respiration rate and skin conductance (measures of autonomic arousal) measured while resting listening to either classical music or a guided meditation audiotape.

At baseline both groups listened to classical music, and at 3- month assessment the MBCT group listened to the meditation audiotape while the control group listened to classical music. After the 3-month assessment, the wait-list controls then completed MBCT as part of the crossover design.

Both groups were then reassessed on all measures at 6 months after baseline. At the 6-months, both groups listened to the meditation audiotape during the physiological assessment.

The results showed that at 3 months, the MBCT group had significantly higher levels of mindfulness (partial η2 = .13), empathic perspective-taking (.24), self-compassion (.29), psychological distress (.32), and self-efficacy in helping skills (.28) and session management (.26).

The MBCT group had higher levels of frontal midline theta activity (.09), lower respiration rates (.21) and lower skin conductance levels (.18). At six months (after crossover), the differences enumerated were no longer significant as the crossover group caught up with the original study group.

For the total sample, increases in mindfulness from baseline to 6 months were associated with gains in helping skills (r2 = .42), session management (.29) and counseling challenge skills self-efficacy (.47).

The study shows that MBCT can increase undergraduate counseling trainees’ confidence in their counseling skills as well as increase their psychological well-being. The study findings are limited by an inactive control group to rule out time and attention influences, a small sample size, and an early career cohort that might not generalize to more experienced trainees.


Chan, S. H. W., Yu, C. K.-C., & Li, A. W. O. (2020). Impact of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on counseling self-efficacy: A randomized controlled crossover trial. Patient Education and Counseling.

[Link to study]