About Bill Gayner
Bill Gayner initially learned to meditate in his early twenties by reading Buddhist books, sitting on a cushion on his bed, and focusing on the breath. This was so practical, helpful, and intriguing, he went on to train in a mix of Tibetan and Theravada Buddhist practices primarily with Namgyal Rinpoche and Cecilie Kwiat from 1984 to 1994, including living at a residential retreat centre for a year and a half.
Bill is a clinical social worker who has worked as a Mental Health Clinician in Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto since 1998, where he provides individual psychotherapy for people living with HIV and teaches and researches mindfulness for HIV+ gay and bisexual men, psychiatry patients, and hospital staff. He started teaching mindfulness-based stress reduction groups (MBSR) in 2001. His training included courses through the UMass Medical School Centre for Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn, Saki Santorelli, Florence Myers and Melissa Blacker; attending an MBSR group led by Bill Knight; and consultations with Toronto mindfulness experts such as Zindel Segal, Paul Kelly and Susan Abbey. He also attended regular vipassana retreats, including a Forest Refuge solo retreat, at the Insight Meditation Society taught by a variety of teachers, particularly Rodney Smith, Narayan Helen Leibensen, and Michael Grady.
In his initial social work training, Bill was trained and supervised in an eclectic blend of person-centred therapy, social work systems theory and structural social work. As a Mental Health Clinician, Bill was trained and supervised in psychodynamic therapy, group psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and emotion-focused therapy. These days, he operates primarily from an integrative emotion-focused therapy perspective, informed by the values of the social work profession.
Bill led a large randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction for gay men living with HIV that was the first to show psychological improvements and increases in mindfulness in this population (Gayner, Esplen, DeRoche, Wong et al., 2012).
Bill has trained and mentored mental health professionals, residents and students in mindfulness meditation for over a decade. He teaches Mindful Psychotherapy in the Mount Sinai Psychotherapy Institute. He leads monthly evening sessions for mental health professionals, residents and students through the Health, Arts and Humanities Program in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He is an Adjunct Lecturer at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto.
Two lines of inquiry led Bill to developing emotion-focused mindfulness therapy (EFMT). On the one hand, he was exploring how to adapt mindfulness to help people suffering from difficult emotional and behavioural patterns associated with internalized stigma, such as harsh self-criticism, difficulties in generating self-warmth, and self-isolation. On the other, Bill had long been concerned with the incongruity of how so much effort was put into taking mindfulness out of a Buddhist context and into clinical and professional-training contexts and, then, after the introductory course is over, people are told to find a Buddhist teacher and attend Buddhist retreats. Bill felt it was time to create contexts where people could develop mature mindfulness practices fully integrated into the initial, secular form in which they had learned to meditate. Still, he didn’t want to lose the baby with the bathwater, so he decided to find a Buddhist teacher to help him deepen his own practice and to mentor him as a teacher so he could transpose this learning into secular contexts.
Bill approached the secular Buddhist teacher Jason Siff in August 2010 with this project in mind. Jason taught Bill his experientially open approach called recollective awareness meditation. This was a breath of fresh air and, by the fall, Bill had decided to explore using it to provide a more coherent way of cultivating self-compassionate empathy and deeply valued living for his clients. Jason mentored Bill as a meditation teacher from January 2011 to April 2016, while Bill integrated recollective awareness into clinical and professional training contexts using an emotion-focused therapy perspective.
Since then, Bill has developed this into an emotion-focused mindfulness therapy (EFMT) approach, by more richly integrating emotion-focused therapy and the broader secular Buddhist literature, particularly the work of Stephen Batchelor. Where other mindfulness-based interventions focus on decentering from thoughts and emotions in order to refocus attention on sensations, EFMT treats emotions as adaptive resources that play a key role in cultivating a deeply valued life.