What is this Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction?

What is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) and is it for you?

Mindfulness is a rapidly expanding psycho-educational approach for managing stress, depression, as well as a range of mental health issues and for general wellbeing . Indeed, mindfulness is now a treatment of choice within the NHS for the prevention of relapse for patients with depression. But what is mindfulness? And, why is it expanding at such a rapid rate?

Mindfulness can be defined as paying attention to our experience in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally (Kabat-Zinn). As an approach based on Buddhist meditation practices, in one sense it can be argued that mindfulness practices have been around for at least 2500 years. However, it is only in the last 20 years that it has moved from the fringes into being seen as a mainstream approach to managing psychological distress. The reason for this shift is mainly concerned with findings that have emerged from research into meditation practices.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a meditation based program for treating people with chronic pain problems. His Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program was focused not on alleviating pain but rather looking to shift people’s perspective in how they relate to their pain. The MBSR is an 8 week experiential program that is now used not just with people with chronic pain but with anyone who can benefit from a new approach to stress. Having developed his program, Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues then researched the results of his study – which demonstrated some significant positive outcomes.

In the 1990s, Mark Williams and his colleagues were looking for a program for relapse prevention in patients with depression and came across MBSR. From this they developed Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as a method for working with depression. This course was again based on an 8 week program similar to MBSR with some additional Cognitive Therapy elements. Again the results of subsequent research have demonstrated that MBCT has significant effects on people seeking prevention from depression relapse.

Subsequently, a whole range of research studies have been undertaken exploring the benefits of mindfulness. Some of the results include: an improved immune system, increased activity in the brain areas associated with our sense of happiness and well-being, a reduction in the mass of the brain areas associated with impulsive reaction and a corresponding increase in the mass of the brain areas associated with considered response.

Overall, mindfulness can be seen as enabling us to develop a capacity to sit alongside our experience, rather than being caught up in it. This in turn allows us to respond to situations in a more considered manner rather than by reacting automatically. This capacity cannot be underestimated – indeed many counsellor’s would argue that this is the main focus of many different psychological therapies!

If you are interested in a course in Mindfulnes Based Stress Reduction, then I’m running one at The Link Centre which starts on January 17th 2014 and runs on 8 Friday evenings and one Saturday between January and March. Please click here to find out more information.

By Mark Head, The Link Centre

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