Tackling Depression with Meditation

| 12/5/2008 1:07:01 PM

Researchers continue to explore the therapeutic benefits of meditation, and one new study on depression touts mindfulness exercises as viable alternatives to anti-depressants.  

Just two months of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) prevented relapses better than traditional treatments, according to researchers at the University of Exeter. Forty-seven percent of patients relapsed after MBCT, compared with sixty percent who relied on traditional treatment methods, and the MBCT test groups reported higher levels of satisfaction with their physical well-being and in their day-to-day activities.

In the MBCT trials, a therapist led small groups in focusing exercises, inspired in part by Buddhist meditation techniques. The exercises encouraged participants to concentrate on the present rather than past or future events. The therapy was designed for simplicity, allowing patients to practice independently after the study ended. According to Professor Willem Kuyken, who led the study, MBCT works because it “teaches skills for life.”

Interest in the therapeutic applications of meditation isn’t particularly new—Utne Reader recently covered the issue here and here. MBCT seems promising, though, as a realistic way to integrate mindfulness practices with more conventional forms of psychological treatments. MBCT is a potentially cost-effective option for treating depression on a large scale because it’s led by a single therapist in groups of eight to fifteen, patients learn to practice the techniques without oversight, and it appears to stave off relapses. The Exeter team, encouraged by the findings, has already announced plans for further study on MBCT techniques.

(Thanks, Shambala Sun.)

Portia St. Luke
12/11/2008 11:30:45 AM

While I’m not delusional enough to suggest that anybody who is on psych meds should just go off of them and try meditation instead, I have found, from my own experience that meditation WITH medication can be a powerful tool. Too often, I’ve seen the (frequently disastrous) effects of a mentally ill friend deciding to just stop taking their meds. Especially during the cold, winter months with the stress of the holiday season, not taking prescribed therapeutic medication can be debilitating and painful if not outright dangerous. If you, or somebody you love, are supposed to be taking medication, please consult with your doctor or health care professional before just quitting "cold turkey." It will save you and those you love a lot of heartache. Meditation can be very positive and healing. Doctors, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals seem to universally agree that meditation can be a wonderful ally in the healing process. By all means, please try it! As they say, “It can’t hurt, and it just might help.” In contrast, suggesting a depressive patient should just stop taking their meds without consulting a professional is irresponsible and potentially deadly. I know. I’ve been there.

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