Mindfulness-Based Therapies in The New York Times

TOPIC: mindfulness, popular press

Here's a great article by Benedict Carey in the New York Times on the increasing clinical interest in mindfulness-based practices and therapies:

Lotus Therapy, a New Old Path (NYT 5/27/2008)

Lotus therapy? Yes … well, in addition to the ridiculous title, someone decided to throw in two really silly pictures, one of a pseudo-Freudian-looking man, presumably a psychologist, floating in a lotus position with pen and notepad in hand, and the other an equally silly picture of Zindel Segal titled “a psychologist, demonstrating meditative therapy.” [see below, originally captioned as “ANXIETY AID Zindel Segal, a psychologist, demonstrating meditative therapy. Jim Ross for The New York Times.”].

I don't mean that Zindel Segal himself is silly, of course. I can just imagine some poor staff photographer sent over to get pics for this article and discovering that . . . there's nothing to photograph.

Photographer: well, maybe you could demonstrate the technique, you know, for a picture to go along with the article.

Segal: the technique?

Photographer: yeah, you know, like doing something mindfully?

Segal: you want to take a picture of me doing something mindfully?

Photographer: yeah, like just for a few seconds do something mindful and I'll take a few snaps and get out of here.

Segal: Hmmm. OK. [sitting down and crossing legs] How's this?

Photographer: Uh huh. Well, could you do something more active? I mean, something more obviously mindful?

Segal: So people will see it in the picture?

Photographer: yeah man, exactly.

Segal: no.

Photographer: well that sucks.

DESPITE that silliness, the article itself is a treat, mentioning all in one place a good handful of pioneering researchers in the field of mindfulness studies and applications (in order of appearance): Zindel Segal, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Marsha Linehan, J. Mark G. Williams, John D. Teasdale, & S. Helen Ma, and striking a reasonable balance between the pros and cons, the positive and negative results flowing from research into mindfulness-based applications to physical and mental health.

Among any number of nice bits of information, Carey quotes Segal as thinking “… a big part of [the rising interest in mindfulness] is that more and more therapists are practicing some form of contemplation themselves and want to bring that into therapy.” In fact (something Carey probably didn't have the space to point out), there are at least two other significant aspects to that particular influence — not just the therapists bringing contemplative practices from home into the office, but also taking mindfulness practices home to help with the stress of the job and using mindfulness practice to make themselves better therapists/practitioners. Just a few examples of recent research include:

Carson, S. H. & Langer, E. J. (2004). Mindful Practice for Clinicians and Patients. In Haas, L. J. (Ed) Handbook of primary care psychology, 173-183. New York:Oxford University Press.

Christopher, J. C., Christopher, S. E., Dunnagan, T., & Schure, M. (2006). Teaching Self-Care Through Mindfulness Practices: The Application of Yoga, Meditation, and Qigong to Counselor Training. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 46(4), 494-509.

Grepmair, L., Mitterlehner, F., Nickel, M. (2006). Promotion of mindfulness in psychotherapists in training and treatment results of their patients. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 60(6), 649-650.

Grepmair, L., Mitterlehner, F., Loew, T., Bachler, E., & Rother, W. (2007). Promoting mindfulness in psychotherapists in training influences the treatment results of their patients: A randomized, double-blind, controlled study. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 76(6), 332-338.

Shapiro, S. L., Brown, K. W., ; Biegel, G. M.(2007). Teaching self-care to caregivers: Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on the mental health of therapists in training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 1(2), 105-115.

Stratton, P. (2006) Therapist mindfulness as a predictor of client outcomes. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 66(11-B), 6296.

Wexler, J. (2006) The relationship between therapist mindfulness and the therapeutic alliance.Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 67(5-B), 2848.

Carson & Langer (2004), e.g., note that “Increasing mindfulness rather than mindlessness can help patients recast their experiences in a different light as well as help clinicians approach patients' problems from a different perspective,” and argue that “a mindful perspective can have a useful impact on the decisions of a mental health professional regarding diagnostic issues and coordination with the primary care physician and staff.”

Carey points out that “Many researchers now worry that the enthusiasm for Buddhist practice will run so far ahead of the science that this promising psychological tool could turn into another fad.” The enthusiasm, of course, is building in both the professional health-care system and in the general public.

But this just reminds us that we need to carefully evaluate the science, continue to do the critical research, and remind ourselves that no single treatment will be effective or appropriate for complex human behaviors with multiple underlying causes.

Some Related References

Hahn, T. N. (1987). The miracle of mindfulness: an introduction to the practice of meditation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994/2005). Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life (10th anniversary edition). New York: Hyperion.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York: Hyperion.

Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale, J. D (2002). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression. New Tork: The Guilford Press.

Prebish, C. S. & Baumann, M. (Eds) (2002). Westward Dharma: Buddhism beyond Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press.