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The blunt truth - why untrained facilitators shouldn't lead meditation

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

Leading a meditation isn't as simple as reading a meditation script.

As the mindfulness and meditation field continues to grow and mature, there's something potentially dangerous happening. If you know me, you'll know I'm not one to be blunt, but this is an important topic.

Meditation practitioners get excited to share what they know

Something really good can come from someone who has learned about mindfulness and meditation. Perhaps they've attended a few classes, read some books, taken a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction course, meditated with some apps or watched some videos. Maybe they've even been fortunate to grow up in a household that meditated. They've really seen the benefits themselves, and are excited to share their excitement with others -- this is a really good thing, and I applaud these people! But, here's the potential risk . . .

They don't know what they don't know

Someone who hasn't been trained as a mindfulness meditation facilitator or teacher can easily believe they know enough to show others about these practices -- after all, how hard can it be to grab a meditation script and read it aloud? The issues are many, actually, and this article serves to reveal some of the main issues to know about.

We all have our own frame of reference. We learn from the particular experiences we have had. But when we cross the threshold to teach others what we know, how do we know that what we are teaching is true, accurate, complete and in the right context?

What untrained facilitators may not know

There is much to unpack here, but here are the most common issues I've seen in untrained people leading others, and new students entering my program. I know these folks have the most compassionate intentions in mind, so I don't wish this to be a 'slap on the hand' by any means. However, I hope this may serve as a new awareness that helps someone realize there is a lot to know in order to skillfully lead others well, to minimize risk to the participants and to create an environment for a good experience.

Here are some of the most common issues of untrained facilitators:

Providing incorrect information

  • More often than not, untrained facilitators do not fully understand what 'pure' mindfulness is. They may take a couple of classes or see the popular marketing that proclaims mindfulness is what everyone needs to relieve stress and create a calm life. The reality is that mindfulness is much deeper than this, yet they do not convey accurate information about the scope of and purpose of mindfulness. Not only can they be giving incorrect information but they are missing the true nature of what mindfulness actually is and how it works.

Not understanding what they are leading and why

  • They go to a workshop and experience some practices that they think are very cool, so they turn around and show others what they learned, but without the context of what the practice is or how to knowledgably lead it. They may not even realize what are or are not pure mindfulness practices, yet they refer to them as mindfulness.

  • Examples are:

    • meditating on the spot between the eyebrows

    • visualizations and imagery

    • chanting OM

    • meditations that bring someone's attention to the past or future

Not understanding how to deal with diversity among participants

  • Did you know that 12-15% or more people have experienced trauma in their lives? And this trauma can be triggered by practicing mindfulness and/or meditation? Untrained facilitators sometimes don't realize that how they instruct and lead can actually increase the likelihood of triggering strong negative reactions for people who have experienced trauma. And not only that, they don't know how to recognize this or what to do about it if a participant is triggered.

  • Do you know what neurodiversity is? We are all unique in how we experience things. Having a neurodivergent mind doesn't mean something is 'wrong' with an individual at all. Exactly who neurodiversity refers to is changing over time, but it commonly refers to people with Autism, ADHD, Asperger's, Dyslexia, etc., and common conditions associated with neurodivergent individuals are: mental health issues, hyper-sensitivity, and differences in how they process and understand information. An untrained facilitator may not be aware of this or know how to deal with it.

Heading for a disaster in the workplace environment

It is critical for facilitators to lead with best practices in any workplace environment.

Allow me to repeat this very important sentence!

It is critical for facilitators to lead with best practices in any workplace environment.

I have seen disasters happen in the workplace where someone who didn't understand how to lead skillfully in the workplace ends up with people saying "We had a bad experience where the person leading us was doing things we thought were spiritual or religious, or didn't fit our culture and that didn't go over well. Now our organization wants nothing to do with mindfulness."

I've had many new facilitator students say to me "I know not to lead anything religious in my workplace", yet they setup their workplace meditation space with a Tibetan singing bowl, and chant 'OM' at the end of the meditation.

Learning best practices in leading in a workplaces environment include:

  • Stay strictly secular (non-spiritual, non-religious), and confidently understanding what is 'in or out' of scope.

  • Staying with evidence-based practices, and knowing what these practices are.

  • Knowing how to lead in a trauma-informed and neurodiversity-informed manner, and how to deal with someone who may be triggered.

  • Using workplace-friendly language.

  • Ensuring people opt-in and aren't meant to feel like they have to participate.

Untrained facilitators might look at the list above and realize that some of what they are doing isn't right for the workplace, or maybe they think they are doing just fine and don't realize what these practices truly entail. Again, sometimes we don't know what we don't know.

To sum up,

If you are someone who may be thinking about or is already leading mindfulness and/or meditation sessions but hasn't taken facilitator training or had your competency verified, I hope this helps shine a light on things you may not be aware of. Even though you may be getting accolades from participants such as "I feel so relaxed now", you may be providing inaccurate information and they won't know this. I encourage you to seek formal training and certification. And I thank you for your desire to help people.

If you are someone who participates in sessions or listens to guided recordings, are you aware of the credentials of the facilitator? If not, maybe it's a good idea to found out if they have been trained and certified. As a pioneer in creating the first workplace mindfulness facilitator training and certification program in 2014, I've had the benefit of seeing and hearing from thousands of practitioners, facilitators and organizations, and being part of the developing mindfulness community with different groups around the world.

I've seen the above issues in both practitioners who are starting their training to become facilitators and in facilitators who have been leading others for several years without proper training. Once they become trained and certified, they realize that they've had some significant holes in their knowledge, and benefit greatly from having a resourceful toolkit and a like-minded community to belong to.

Continuous development of one's own knowledge and practices, embodying the practices themselves, understanding the mindfulness domain, the importance of ethics and skillfully leading others are foundations for anyone who is leading others.

The wonderful part of my job is meeting like-minded, truly compassionate people who want to help others. These people have the attitude 'I can always learn more, and want to keep learning'. Thank you to anyone who wants to help others - you truly have your heart in the right place.

Thank you for reading all the way to the end of this post, I sincerely appreciate it.

If you would like to learn about The Calm Monkey's Mindfulness Meditation Facilitator Training and Certification Program, I invite you to explore it here.


~Wendy Quan, Founder, The Calm Monkey


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