The Applications of Mindfulness in Health Care

Recent studies have shown that mindfulness training may improve health outcomes. “Mindfulness” is an integration of meditation training and yoga, and helps the patient achieve a mental state of awareness through acknowledging & accepting the present moment and creating unity between the mind & body. Mindfulness training helps improve a patient’s engagement with their health, particularly in patients with chronic pain. It fosters a sense of bodily engagement and improves an individual’s ability to promote their health and well-being outside of the clinical setting.

Currently, the most recognized and validated form of mindfulness training is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Mindfulness-based stress reduction is an eight-week training program developed by Dr. Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, in which patients learn the nuances of mindfulness, meditation, and yoga. MBSR can and does help people from all walks of life, but most recently, resources have been devoted to studying its efficacy in the management of chronic disease for patients. MBSR is often taught to patients by physicians, which in turn helps strengthen the provider-patient relationship and encourages a collaborative approach to care.

Results on the efficacy of mindfulness show that it helps with pain management but does not necessarily alleviate pain symptoms. One study found that MBSR is likely to result in more effective coping strategies, improved overall well-being & quality of life, and enhanced health outcomes. MBSR has been shown to be particularly effective in patients with chronic pain, fibromyalgia, cancer, anxiety disorders, and depression. In studies on chronic pain management, MBSR led to patients feeling in control of their pain, better mental health, and higher pain tolerance. Similar results were found in women with breast cancer.

Interestingly, when compared against Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a traditional model of psychotherapy, both treatments proved effective. Their individual effectiveness varied by the degree of severity in patients’ anxiety disorders and depression. CBT proved more effective in people with lower levels of anxiety and depression, while MBSR was more successful in people with more severe symptomatology. 

MBSR has been integrated into the treatment of hundreds of hospitals across the country. Results have shown that it increases patients’ understanding and engagement with their bodies. As personalized approaches are designed to engage patients in their health care, there should also be a movement to include MBSR training in mainstream health care.

Phoebe Long is a senior at Duke University and a research intern at Duke’s Center for Research on Personalized Health Care.

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