Improve the Psychological Health of Survivors of Childhood Maltreatment with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Because traumatic experience is often driven by avoidance of one’s core self, memories, and emotions, many people with unresolved or resolving developmental trauma struggle to remain present with themselves and others. . . Various forms of meditation, typically in the mindfulness tradition, can be helpful for this.” – Grant Brenner
“Child maltreatment is the abuse and neglect that occurs to children under 18 years of age. It includes all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. Exposure to intimate partner violence is also sometimes included as a form of child maltreatment” (World Health Organization, 2016)
This maltreatment is traumatic and can leave in its wake symptoms which can haunt the victims for the rest of their lives. These include persistent recurrent re-experiencing of the traumatic event, including flashbacks and nightmares, loss of interest in life, detachment from other people, increased anxiety and emotional arousal, including outbursts of anger, difficulty concentration, and jumpiness, startling easily. Unfortunately, childhood maltreatment can continue to affect mental and physical health throughout the individual’s life. How individuals cope with childhood maltreatment helps determine the effects of the maltreatment on their mental health. It has been found that experiencing the feelings and thoughts completely allows for better coping. This can be provided by mindfulness. Indeed, mindfulness has been found to be effective for relieving trauma symptoms.
In today’s Research News article “Effects of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention on Self-Compassion and Psychological Health Among Young Adults With a History of Childhood Maltreatment.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6843003/), Joss and colleagues recruited meditation naïve adults who had experienced childhood maltreatment. They were randomly assigned either to a wait list or to receive a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program with 8 weekly, 2.5 hour sessions consisting of meditation, yoga, body scan, and discussion. They were also instructed to practice daily at home. They were measured before and after training for perceived stress, anxiety, depression, self-compassion, and mindfulness.
They found that in comparison to baseline and the wait-list controls, the participants who received the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program had significant decreases in perceived stress and anxiety and increases in self-compassion, with the greater the number of MBSR sessions attended the greater the size of the effects. They also found that the greater the severity of the childhood maltreatment the lower the effectiveness of the MBSR program. In addition, they found that the changes in mindfulness produced by MBSR affected both anxiety and stress both directly and indirectly via changes in self-compassion. So, higher mindfulness produced reductions in both anxiety and stress directly and also as a result of the changes in mindfulness producing increases in self-compassion that in turn produced reductions in anxiety and stress.
These results are not surprising as mindfulness training has been previously shown to reduce perceived stress and anxiety and increase self-compassion. But this study demonstrated that mindfulness training is effective for adults who experience maltreatment during childhood. Childhood maltreatment produces life-long negative consequences for the psychological health of the individual. The findings, then, are encouraging and suggest that mindfulness training can help in reducing these negative effects. It appears, though that the worse the maltreatment the harder it is for the mindfulness training to improve the victim’s mental health.
The findings suggest that mindfulness training improves the psychological health of childhood maltreatment victims, in part, by increasing the individual’s compassion for themselves. Self-compassion is “treating oneself with kindness and understanding when facing suffering, . . . and having a balanced awareness of painful thoughts and emotions” – (Kristin Neff). Learning to have this compassion for oneself appears to be important for dealing with the consequences of childhood maltreatment. Mindfulness training can effectively elevate this self-compassion producing improved mental health.
So, improve the psychological health of survivors of childhood maltreatment with mindfulness.
“Mindfulness practice interventions in their various forms were found to have positive outcomes when addressing trauma children and adolescents and adults with childhood trauma.” – Margaret Fisher
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Joss, D., Khan, A., Lazar, S. W., & Teicher, M. H. (2019). Effects of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention on Self-Compassion and Psychological Health Among Young Adults With a History of Childhood Maltreatment. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2373. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02373
Individuals who were maltreated during childhood are faced with increased risks for developing various psychological symptoms that are particularly resistant to traditional treatments. This pilot study investigated the effects of a mindfulness based behavioral intervention for young adults with a childhood maltreatment history.
This study looked at self-report psychological questionnaires from 20 subjects (5 males) before and after a mindfulness-based behavioral intervention, compared to 18 subjects (6 males) in the waiting list control group (age range 22–29); all subjects experienced mild-to-moderate childhood maltreatment. We analyzed changes in stress, anxiety, depression, mindfulness and self-compassion related to the intervention with linear mixed effects models; we also analyzed the relationships among questionnaire score changes with partial correlation analyses and mediation analysis.
Linear mixed effects model analyses revealed significant group by time interaction on stress (p < 0.01), anxiety (p < 0.05), and self-compassion (p < 0.01), with the mindfulness group having significant reduction in stress and anxiety (p < 0.01), and significant increase in mindfulness (p < 0.05) and self-compassion (p < 0.001). Partial correlation analyses showed that among all subjects from both groups, changes in mindfulness positively correlated with changes in self-compassion (r = 0.578, p = 0.001), which negatively correlated with changes in depression (r = −0.374, p = 0.05) and anxiety (r = −0.395, p < 0.05). Changes in self-compassion mediated, in part, the relationship between changes in mindfulness and changes in anxiety (average causal mediation effect = −4.721, p < 0.05). We observed a dose-dependent effect of the treatment, i.e., the number of intervention sessions attended were negatively correlated with changes in stress (r = −0.674, p < 0.01), anxiety (r = −0.580, p < 0.01), and depression (r = −0.544, p < 0.05), after controlling for the individual differences in childhood maltreatment severity.
Our results suggest that, to some extent, the mindfulness-based intervention can be helpful for improving self-compassion and psychological health among young adults with a childhood maltreatment history.