Mindfulness for the Forensic Practitioner

Amy Jeanguenat, Principal Consultant at Mindgen, describes what mindfulness is and how it can help a person to manage their stress, improve their decision making skills, and may one day help to reform the criminal justice system.





My name is Amy Jeanguenat, and I’ve worked in the private DNA industry for my career, helping to support crime labs with backlog reduction and prevention. I also did technical and quality support. I’ve worked about every role in the crime laboratory: so technician, casework analyst, DNA technical leader, and laboratory director.

I experienced stress in any of the roles. It didn’t really matter what the level of responsibility was. I was giving my work all, no matter what the role was. Over time, I experienced chronic stress at my job, so I was looking for outlets to help myself, because I couldn’t leave work stress at work. I was bringing it home with me at night. It was effecting my relationships. It was effecting my health. I knew I needed to make some changes.

When I started working with movements and meditation, I found a lot of benefit from being able to get off autopilot, which I felt my life was kind of running on, and being able to really think clearer. Before, I had a mental fog a lot. It’s like, “If I could just think about this better, I know there’d be a better outcome.” So, my decision making was also coming into tune.

I decided to leave my position to kind of bring mindfulness to forensic scientists, because I saw how it helped me. I see the stress in my colleagues and my clients, and I want to be able to help them too, and it also gives me the opportunity to independently consult with technical training in forensics as well.

So, I think sometimes with mindfulness, people are like, “So, what exactly is it?” It’s effected by pop culture, so we hear different things about what we think mindfulness is. Sometimes, it’s described as just meditation in general, which is kind of an over-vague generalization. Sometimes, it’s referred to as our natural state of being before we came up with limiting factors that we tell ourselves about what we can and can’t do, or the roles that have been determined for us from our parents growing up. But, a definition that comes from mindfulness-based stress reduction is that it’s intentional awareness in the present moment where we’re not labeling it. So, we’re just kind of, “We’re really here. We’re not thinking about the past. We’re not thinking about the future. We’re really enjoying the present moment.” So, that’s mindfulness.

Well, the cool thing about mindfulness is when you practice, it’s actually an exercise for your brain. So if you think about going to the gym and lifting weights, when you practice mindfulness, you’re kind of practicing your brain muscles, right? And it can actually change your brain. It can change your brain in areas like learning and memory, perception, and even how your stress response works. So, if you notice yourself kind of automatically reacting to things in certain ways, mindfulness can kind of give you that pause, and you can make the decision of how you’re going to respond, because certain situations deserve different types of responses. It can help with focused attention, and because of that, decision making skills and also creativity. There’s also been studies to show that it can help reduce anxiety and depression, and also allow people to sleep better.

I see four main paths and they kind of grow on each other. One is that, the industry that we work in, it can be a high-level stress environment. Analysts can also experience vicarious trauma based on the work that they’re doing, so it can help with resilience building and stress reduction. The second thing I see, and this is something that I’d like to kind of work on, is that because it can help with focused attention and concentration, and if you’re really mindful about what you’re doing, I think it can also help with overall quality of work in forensics. I think, when people learn mindfulness, you also start to have compassion and empathy for others. So, I see that helping with communication – both with your co-workers, but also the stakeholders in the criminal justice system. And then, a bigger picture item, a lot of people are trained in mindfulness. I think we can have social reform of the criminal justice system.