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Teaching

Four Paths to MBSR Teacher-hood (in English)

Several folks have asked me about becoming an MBSR teacher. Thought I’d share this last draft of my response; it may be helpful to others. :)

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Dear Rachida, greetings!

As promised, here is a brain-dump of my knowledge re: becoming an MBSR teacher (in English):

Background:

As you probably know, MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970s. As the program matured and expanded, UMass began training MBSR teachers to spread the good word. My understanding is that in 2018 and 2019 the teacher training aspect of MBSR transitioned from UMass to Brown University, and that UMass is no longer training MBSR teachers.

MBSR Specific Training:

To clarify, the thing I’m addressing here is MBSR teacher training. There are many other kinds of mindfulness teacher training available: one can receive a Master of Arts in Mindfulness, or study from teachers with the Insight Meditation Society, or be invited to undertake retreat teacher training with organizations such as Bodhi College. Here I’ll just be talking about MBSR teacher training.

And Now the Reveal:

To my knowledge, there are four organizations training MBSR teachers in English:
Brown University (USA, East Coast)
The University of California, San Diego (USA, West Coast)
Bangor University (UK)
Mindfulness Network (UK)

Here’s what I know about each of them:

Brown University

As mentioned above, Brown took the torch from UMass. The teach-the-teachers from UMass are now teaching teachers at Brown.

Brown’s training is divided into three phases: MBSR Teacher Training Level 1, MBSR Teacher Training Level 2, MBSR Teacher Training Completion. After completion of the first phase (MBSR Teacher Training Level 1), you may begin to teach 8-Week MBSR courses.

Brown has a helpful infographic showing the progression:

For Teacher Training Level 1, there is a prerequisite (not shown) that you first complete an 8-Week MBSR course (taught in real-time either in person or online as of this writing). Then you attend one silent retreat (doesn’t have to be at Brown. I believe it must be “teacher-led” and longer than 7-days). Then you complete the MBSR Foundations course (taught by Brown). This course can be an 8-Week program or is sometimes offered as a 9-Day residency course. Upon completion of Foundations, you are allowed to teach “introductory programs and workshops” but not the 8-Week MBSR course itself. Then you attend one more silent retreat. Then the MBSR Teacher Advancement Intensive (referred to as “TAI”), a 9-Day (?) course which used to be available only in person but, atleast during COVID, is now available online and runs over three long weekends.

After completion of this progression, you may begin teaching 8-Week MBSR courses. The implication is that you will continue to teach and progress through the three levels, until arriving at “Certification”. But it’s not required. You can stop at Level 1.

The University of California, San Diego

The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) has its own certification course and teacher training track. They do allow folks from UMass/Brown to transition in to their track. IE, if one begins at UMass/Brown and then wishes to transition to UCSD, one may do so.

UCSD’s track is different from Brown’s in that, with Brown, one takes several rounds of training before being given approval to teach, and then one is on their own. With UCSD, one receives a shorter amount of training up front and is then paired with a mentor with whom one works while teaching the 8-Week MBSR course. The mentoring relationship can be in-person or online.

UCSD’s training is divided into two phases: Teacher Qualification and Teacher Certification. With UCSD, you begin teaching the 8-Week MBSR class _during_ the first “Teacher Qualification” while taking part in a formal mentoring relationship with a UCSD teacher trainer.

For Teacher Qualification, Step 1 includes various prerequisites (an 8-Week MBSR course, an ongoing daily meditation practice, etc.) described here. After meeting these prerequisites, you complete Step-2, a 6-Day Teacher Training Intensive (called TTI). Then Step-3, a 10-week Teacher Training Practicum (TTP). In Step-4 you apply for and receive “Teacher in Training Status” and become a “Provisionally Qualified MBSR Teacher”. You then choose and establish a formal mentoring relationship with a UCSD teacher. Step-5, you teach two 8-week MBSR courses while in the mentoring relationship. Step-6, you apply for Teacher Qualification Status after which you will be a “Qualified MBSR Teacher”, and can teach the 8-week MBSR course without mentoring. You are expected to attend teacher-led, silent retreats of 7-days or more every year.

As with Brown, the expectation is that you will continue to pursue certification, moving into the second phase of the program, but it is not required.

Bangor University

I know much less about Bangor. I have trained with both UMass (now Brown) and UCSD (I am currently in Step-5 of UCSD’s Qualification program), but am offering here what I’ve been able to understand from the information on Bangor’s website and their prospectus.

Bangor offers two part-time non-residency tracks, both result in a postgraduate degree. One of these is a “Masters in Mindfulness-Based Approaches” which is a 3-year program resulting in a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Sciences (MSc). This program _does not_ provide an MBSR teacher certification, so I’ll not address it further. The other program is a “Master of Arts in Teaching Mindfulness-Based Courses”. This is a 4-year program at the end of which you will receive both an MA _and_ a certification to teach MBSR (or MBCT). This is the program I’ll address going forward.

The Bangor courses “are mainly delivered on five weekends through the academic year, and are combined with online and individual tutorial support. The teaching weekends are held in Bangor, North Wales.” Training duration is flexible, from four to five years, depending on how fast you want to progress through the modules. Upon completion, you wil receive a Certificate of Competence in Teaching MBSR/MBCT, an MA, and be able to teach 8-week MBSR courses. As this is a long program with multiple aspects, I think it best to simply point you in the direction of the Bangor website, and particularly recommend the “Current Prospectus]” for perusal.

Mindfulness Network

The Mindfulness Network (MN) is new to me; I learned about it while researching your question. They seem to work in close collaboration with Bangor.

They list prerequisites of completing an 8-week MBSR course, maintaining a personal mindfulness practice for at least 6-months, and attending a mindfulness retreat of at least 2-days duration.

According to their Teacher Training Program handbook], MN has three phases: Practising Teacher, Trained Teacher, and Competency-assessed Teacher. As with UCSD, you will be paired with a mentor.

For “Certification as a Practising Teacher”, you first complete a teacher training which is either 9-week non-residency or 7-day residential. Following that there is a requirement for a 5-day specialist training in either MBSR, MBCT or MBCT-Ca, a 2-day Inquiry workshop, and a 5-day “Foundations of Mindfulness” retreat. (You are expected to attend teacher-led, residential retreats every year.) Finally, you will teach two 8-week MBSR courses, superivised by your mentor.

After completing the above, you may exit the program as a Certified Practising Teacher.

Cost

Frankly, I’m not sure what to say here. MBSR teacher training seems to me far too expensive. There are scholarships available, but… well… perhaps it is the institutional nature of the endeavour. I do not always feel I am getting my money’s worth.

The costs will vary depending on location and duration of retreats, travel expenses for the same, and whether you take online or in-person classes. In 2018 my math suggested that the cost of full certification with UMass was about the same as a master’s degree. My guess is that Brown is similar.

Organizations have become a bit more diligent in disclosing costs:
– Brown’s “Program Fees“.
– UCSD’s “Estimated Fees” (scroll down to the bottom of the page).
– Bangor “fees“.
– Mindfulness Network “costs“.

Remember, these costs do not include retreats, which are often required annually and can run from zero to several thousand dollars.

Now You Know What I Know!

That’s it, my friend. Now you know what I know about becoming an MBSR teacher. I fear you may next ask my advice on how to proceed, given the above. I will not hazard a guess at the “best” path for you.

But I will offer something a step removed from “which organization should I train with?” You might consider the question, “What do I want to do?” Or, “Why am I thinking about getting an MBSR teacher certification?” Let the answer to these questions help you choose.

If you just have a burning desire to teach anybody, any way you can, you may find that the Brown MBSR Fundamentals program, especially if you can get it online, will allow you to teach introductory programs and workshops, and that may be enough. If, however, you want to teach at institutions, hospitals or corporations, for example, you may need some kind of certification on your business card. In that case, UCSD’s program allows you to reach “Provisionally Qualified MBSR Teacher” fairly quickly. Mindfulness Network may offer a similar benefit, quick access to some level of certification to get one’s foot in the door. Or if an academic degree appeals, a more in-depth study with a longer steep time, perhaps the Bangor program will be right for you. I began with UMass (now Brown) and transitioned to UCSD because of the access to a mentor to assist with my teaching. The provisional certification helped get my foot in the door at several hospitals where I now teach weekly.

One Last Thing…

I’d like to finish by saying: don’t be afraid to step outside the box. These organizations have done a decent job of creating boxes, but there is no government accredidation process… you can step out of and in between whatever boxes seem most skillful in any moment. Take care of yourself and train well so that you can serve your clients and participants. There is no money or glory in this business. Use the available training to become the best possible teacher… and human being… so that you can help yourself and others to live in human flourishing.

I wish you much luck in your journey, and I look forward to following your adventures.

With care and friendliness,

:Shannon

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