I removed the long dormant Psychology News Blog from the list of ‘Psychology Blogs’ and replaced it with the intriguing Brain Blogger: Topics from Multidimensional BioPsychoSocial Perspectives. (How’s that for mission statement?)
One posts at Brain Blogger includes:
Can the mind cure the mind, working on itself? Well, although the entire self-help psychology industry survives on an assumption that it does — with various techniques, young and old, aimed at self-therapy, scientific research on the subject is still in its early stage…
The author goes on to cite a 2007 15-study analysis on the effectiveness of one mindfulness-based treatment, Mindfulness Based Stress Relief (MBSR). The results, she study concluded, were “equivocal”. In other words, inconclusive — “at best considered an adjunctive therapy when it comes to treating anxiety and mood disorders — most studies failed to demonstrate it as a reliable primary method of treating these conditions” (It turns out the study was roundly criticized as being flawed.)
He then takes up the interesting argument that ‘mindfulness’ based treatments are possibly hampered by their lack of a cultural context.
Although the results may appear disappointing for meditation enthusiasts, a historical perspective may be illuminating. Meditation routines were first developed in ancient cultures, particularly Eastern, solely as a spiritual practice. Mindfulness meditation, as defined by the eminent mind-body researcher Prof. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness, is “the awareness that emerges through paying attention to purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the experience of unfolding, moment by moment.” Awareness, in eastern cultures is the process of shifting your world-view, from earthly mundane matters, through progressive levels of detachment to gain a supra-ordinal view, where we see the wholeness and inter-connectedness of things.
Expecting it to work for curing psycho-social disorders, in my view, is detracting from the very basis of meditation — transcendence. If you meditated solely with the aim to get rid of depression or anxiety, it represents a desire to ‘escape’ from the problem, rather than work at the roots which give rise to it in first place — a biochemical imbalance in the brain, or social stressors as a causative or contributing factor. In the end it’s a ‘troubled’ mind trying to grapple with its own problems, looking for a technique not designed for a cure.
While these are slippery problems, they’re not entirely convincing arguments for dismissing mindfulness-based interventions. Though it’s hard to quantify in a research setting, it appears that mindfulness practices have benefits in a clinical setting. That said, the cultural context of that practice remains important.