Improve Psychopathology with Meditation
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“The research is strong for mindfulness’ positive impact in certain areas of mental health, including stress reduction, emotion and attention regulation, reduced rumination, for reducing mild to moderate depression and anxiety, and preventing depressive relapse.” – Kelle Walsh
There are vast numbers of people who suffer with mental illnesses; psychopathology. In the United states it has been estimated that in any given year 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness. Many are treated with drugs. But drug treatment can produce unwanted side effects, don’t work for many patients, and often can lose effectiveness over time. Mindfulness practices provide a safe alternative treatment. They have been found to be helpful with coping with these illnesses and in many cases reducing the symptoms of the diseases. Hence, it appears that mindfulness practices are safe and effective treatments for a variety of psychiatric conditions including anxiety, depression, psychoses, addictions, etc.. Since there has accumulated a large amount of research, it makes sense to step back and summarize what has been discovered.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6597263/), Wielgosz and colleagues review and summarize the published research studies investigating the efficacy of mindfulness meditation practices for the treatment of a variety of psychopathologies.
They report that mindfulness meditation produces significant improvements in depression and in anxiety disorders in comparison to inactive and active control conditions. Efficacy is equivalent to that of other evidence-based treatments. The research suggests that meditation reduces depression by decreasing rumination and anxiety by reducing repetitive negative thinking. Hence, meditation training is an excellent safe and effective treatment for these prevalent mental illnesses.
They also report that mindfulness meditation produces significant improvements in chronic pain intensity and unpleasantness in comparison to inactive but not active control conditions. Efficacy is equivalent to that of other evidence-based treatments. This is true for chronic low back pain fibromyalgia, migraine, and chronic pelvic pain. Meditation also appears to improve the quality of life of chronic pain patients. The research suggests that meditation reduces chronic pain by decreasing negative emotional reactivity. Such reactivity appears to intensify pain and meditation reduces this reactivity and thereby reduces pain.
They report that mindfulness meditation produces significant improvements in substance abuse disorders in comparison to inactive and active control conditions and even in comparison to other evidence-based treatments. It appears to reduce substance use frequency, use-related problems, and craving. This is important as addictions are very difficult to treat and frequently relapse.
There is evidence that mindfulness meditation is effective in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) both in children and adults and also post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But there are currently no comparisons to the effects of other active or evidence-based treatments. It will be important to have randomized controlled trials with active controls to better assess the efficacy of meditation for the treatment of ADHD and PTSD.
There is emerging evidence that mindfulness meditation may be effective for eating disorders, and major mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, major depression, and psychosis. But there is a need for more, better controlled research.
Hence, this comprehensive review suggests that mindfulness meditation is a useful treatment for a variety of types of psychopathology. It is amazing that such a simple practice as meditation can have such wide-ranging benefits for such diverse mental illnesses. Meditation appears to act indirectly by strengthening cognitive, emotional, and stress related process that in turn have beneficial effects on the psychopathologies. Hence, it is clear that mindfulness meditation is a safe and effective treatment for psychopathologies that can be used alone or in combination with other treatments.
So, improve psychopathology with meditation.
“When they’re depressed, people are locked in the past. They’re ruminating about something that happened that they can’t let go of. When they’re anxious, they’re ruminating about the future — it’s that anticipation of what they can’t control. In contrast, when we are mindful, we are focused on the here and now. Mindfulness trains individuals to turn their attention to what is happening in the present moment.” – Carolyn Gregoire
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Wielgosz, J., Goldberg, S. B., Kral, T., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2019). Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology. Annual review of clinical psychology, 15, 285–316. doi:10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-021815-093423
Mindfulness meditation is increasingly incorporated into mental health interventions, and theoretical concepts associated with it have influenced basic research on psychopathology. Here, we review the current understanding of mindfulness meditation through the lens of clinical neuroscience, outlining the core capacities targeted by mindfulness meditation and mapping them onto cognitive and affective constructs of the Research Domain Criteria matrix proposed by the National Institute of Mental Health. We review efficacious applications of mindfulness meditation to specific domains of psychopathology including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and substance abuse, as well as emerging efforts related to attention disorders, traumatic stress, dysregulated eating, and serious mental illness. Priorities for future research include pinpointing mechanisms, refining methodology, and improving implementation. Mindfulness meditation is a promising basis for interventions, with particular potential relevance to psychiatric comorbidity. The successes and challenges of mindfulness meditation research are instructive for broader interactions between contemplative traditions and clinical psychological science.