Treat Physical Health Conditions with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“A growing body of research now links the Eastern practice to improved conditions for serious ailments, from diabetes to heart disease to cancer. How? By “treating the whole person… so they can live in greater health and joy.” – Shauna Shapiro
Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving physical and psychological health and particularly with the physical and psychological reactions to stress. Techniques such as Mindfulness Training, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as well as Yoga practice and Tai Chi or Qigong practice have been demonstrated to be effective. This has led to an increasing adoption of these mindfulness techniques for the health and well-being of both healthy and ill individuals.
The vast majority of the mindfulness training techniques, however, require a certified trained therapist. This produces costs that many clients can’t afford. In addition, the participants must be available to attend multiple sessions at particular scheduled times that may or may not be compatible with their busy schedules and at locations that may not be convenient. As an alternative, on-line mindfulness training programs have been developed. These have tremendous advantages in decreasing costs, making training schedules much more flexible, and eliminating the need to go repeatedly to specific locations. But, the question arises as to the effectiveness of these programs.
In today’s Research News article “Web-Based Mindfulness Interventions for People With Physical Health Conditions: Systematic Review.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5599726/, Toivonen and colleagues review and summarize the published research literature on the effectiveness on on-line mindfulness training programs on the psychological and physical symptoms of chronic diseases. They report on 16 published studies.
They found that studies of on-line mindfulness training for the treatment of chronic pain conditions, including fibromyalgia, demonstrated significant effectiveness for pain coping and the psychological symptoms produced by chronic pain. But, the evidence was inconclusive regarding alterations of experienced pain. Studies of heart disease treatment with on-line mindfulness trainings demonstrated small improvements relative to usual care in exercise tolerance, heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and stress. Studies of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) demonstrated significant effectiveness of on-line mindfulness trainings for the symptoms, quality of life, and psychological distress produced by IBS. Studies of epilepsy demonstrated significant effectiveness of on-line mindfulness trainings for the depression accompanying epilepsy. Studies of Tinnitus demonstrated significant effectiveness of on-line mindfulness trainings for Tinnitus severity, depression, anxiety and perceived stress accompanying Tinnitus. Studies of acquired brain injury demonstrated significant effectiveness of on-line mindfulness trainings for the mental fatigue accompanying acquired brain injury. Studies of cancer survivors demonstrated significant effectiveness of on-line mindfulness trainings for the fatigue, depressed mood, and psychological distress accompanying cancer survival.
The published studies found that it did not make a significant difference if the on-line mindfulness training occurred through immediate interaction or with continuously available resources or whether there was an active facilitator or not. Hence, on-line training did not require active participation by a therapist. Effectiveness was present regardless. The materials and not the format or the therapist was important.
These are important and exciting results that demonstrate the effectiveness of on-line mindfulness training for the treatment of chronic diseases. Thus, mindfulness trainings can be implemented with high cost-effectiveness, to large numbers of people, without the necessity of a therapist’s involvement, and without the requirement for attendance at particular locations. The results suggest that mindfulness practices can be provided widely and inexpensively to relieve at least some of the suffering produced by a wide variety of chronic diseases.
“Other research has looked broadly at use of mindfulness-based group therapy compared to individual cognitive-behavioral therapy for patients with various conditions including depression, anxiety and stress and adjustment disorders. They found that the mindfulness group therapy as effective as the individual therapy.” – American Psychiatric Association
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch
Toivonen, K. I., Zernicke, K., & Carlson, L. E. (2017). Web-Based Mindfulness Interventions for People With Physical Health Conditions: Systematic Review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 19(8), e303. http://doi.org/10.2196/jmir.7487
Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are becoming increasingly popular for helping people with physical health conditions. Expanding from traditional face-to-face program delivery, there is growing interest in Web-based application of MBIs, though Web-based MBIs for people with physical health conditions specifically have not been thoroughly reviewed to date.
The objective of this paper was to review Web-based MBIs for people with physical health conditions and to examine all outcomes reported (eg, efficacy or effectiveness for physical changes or psychological changes; feasibility).
Databases PubMed, PsycINFO, Science Direct, CINAHL Plus, and Web of Science were searched. Full-text English papers that described any Web-based MBI, examining any outcome, for people with chronic physical health conditions were included. Randomized, nonrandomized, controlled, and uncontrolled trials were all included. Extracted data included intervention characteristics, population characteristics, outcomes, and quality indicators. Intervention characteristics (eg, synchronicity and guidance) were examined as potential factors related to study outcomes.
Of 435 publications screened, 19 published papers describing 16 studies were included. They examined Web-based MBIs for people with cancer, chronic pain or fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), epilepsy, heart disease, tinnitus, and acquired brain injury. Overall, most studies reported positive effects of Web-based MBIs compared with usual care on a variety of outcomes including pain acceptance, coping measures, and depressive symptoms. There were mixed results regarding the effectiveness of Web-based MBIs compared with active control treatment conditions such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Condition-specific symptoms (eg, cancer-related fatigue and IBS symptoms) targeted by treatment had the largest effect size improvements following MBIs. Results are inconclusive regarding physical variables.
Preliminary evidence suggests that Web-based MBIs may be helpful in alleviating symptom burden that those with physical health conditions can experience, particularly when interventions are tailored for specific symptoms. There was no evidence of differences between synchronous versus asynchronous or facilitated versus self-directed Web-based MBIs. Future investigations of Web-based MBIs should evaluate the effects of program adherence, effects on mindfulness levels, and whether synchronous or asynchronous, or facilitated or self-directed interventions elicit greater improvements.