Mindfulness involves self-regulation of attention and orientation to the present moment through the practice of meditation. It has recently become an increasingly popular add-on for treatment of mental health problems. A specific form of mindfulness combines it with cognitive-behavioral principles and techniques. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy involves the recognition of thoughts and feelings as fleeting mental states rather than becoming caught in habitual, self-defeating thought patterns that undermine mood, well-being, and/or performance.
In order to understand the impact of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy on psychiatric disorders, a systematic review was conducted. Systematic reviews involve standardizing the quantitative findings of outcome studies and then pooling their results. They can encapsulate a body of knowledge and inform us about the state of the research in a particular topic area.
This systematic review only included studies that involved mindfulness (e.g., those that were coupled with acceptance and commitment therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy were excluded) and research designs had to have control groups, though not necessarily randomization to conditions. Altogether, thirty-nine studies, involving 1,140 participants, met inclusion criteria for the review.
In the studies, mindfulness seems to have been applied to an array of problems to include mood disorders (depression and bipolar disorder) and anxiety. Unfortunately, there were not enough studies on many particular disorders so results of studies could not generally be pooled. The only area in which studies could be combined involved recurrent depression (e.g., one in which participants had suffered at least three past depressive episodes). In four studies taken together, adding mindfulness therapy to standard care (which was different in studies but could include psychotherapy and/or medication) appeared to reduce future episodes of depression (relapse).
Due to few studies, methodological problems existing within these studies, and the fact that they differed too much to pool together, the effect on other psychiatric disorders could not be assessed well. More studies are therefore needed to address the impact of mindfulness therapy on mental health problems other than recurrent depression. However, an important conclusion of this systematic review was that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy added to standard care can result in lower relapse rates.
Jacqueline Corcoran, Ph.D.
Reference / Abstract
Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2010). Mindfulness based cognitive therapy for psychiatric disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research. Doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2010.08.011.