Episode 15: Is Mindfulness A Panacea Or Overhyped And Potentially Problematic?

GettyImages-956814130.jpgThis is Episode 15 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.


Mindfulness is everywhere these days, but is it really as beneficial as it’s often made out to be? Our presenter Ginny Smith hears from clinical psychologist Dr Catherine Wikholm (co-author of The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?); she visits the Cambridge Buddha Centre to meet people who have taken up mindfulness meditation; and she discusses some of the latest mindfulness research trials with Professor Barney Dunn, a clinical psychologist at Exeter University. Some of the evidence is indeed promising, and mindfulness meditation could offer a cost-effective way to help many people with mental health problems. However, Ginny also discovers that many trials are ongoing, mindfulness is not risk free, and it may not suit everyone.

Some of the studies mentioned in this episode:

Mechanisms of action in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in people with physical and/or psychological conditions: A systematic review.

How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies

Mindfulness Training Increases Momentary Positive Emotions and Reward Experience in Adults Vulnerable to Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence (PREVENT): a randomised controlled trial

The Effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) in Real-World Healthcare Services

The effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a mindfulness training programme in schools compared with normal school provision (MYRIAD): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial

Unwanted effects: Is there a negative side of meditation? A multicentre survey

The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?

Relevant studies and articles from our own archive and The Psychologist magazine:

The Psychology of Mindfulness, Digested

A Mindful Moment – collection of Psychologist magazine articles on mindfulness.

Brainwave evidence hints at benefits from a school mindfulness programme

Brief mindfulness training does not foster empathy, and can even make narcissists worse

Experienced meditators have enhanced control over their eye movements

This is what eight weeks of mindfulness training does to your brain

Mindfulness meditation increases people’s susceptibility to false memories

Just fifteen minutes of mindfulness meditation can improve your decision making

How meditation alters the brain

Episode credits: Presented and produced by Ginny Smith. Mixing Jeff Knowler. PsychCrunch theme music Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Art work Tim Grimshaw.

Check out this episode!

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Past episodes:

Episode one: Dating and Attraction
Episode two: Breaking Bad Habits
Episode three: How to Win an Argument
Episode four: The Psychology of Gift Giving
Episode five: How To Learn a New Language
Episode six: How To Be Sarcastic 😉
Episode seven: Use Psychology To Compete Like an Olympian.
Episode eight: Can We Trust Psychological Studies?
Episode nine: How To Get The Best From Your Team
Episode ten: How To Stop Procrastinating
Episode eleven: How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Episode twelve: How to Be Funnier
Episode thirteen: How to Study and Learn More Effectively
Episode fourteen: Psychological Tricks To Make Your Cooking Taste Better

PsychCrunch is sponsored by Routledge Psychology.

PsychCrunch Banner April 16

Routledge interviewed PsychCrunch presenter Christian Jarrett about the aims of the podcast and engaging with the public about psychology research.

11 thoughts on “Episode 15: Is Mindfulness A Panacea Or Overhyped And Potentially Problematic?”

  1. don’t believe the hype – we have systemic causes of suffering now recast as personal pathology and hundreds of variations on the theme of talk therapy and or drugs. After many decades of this are we thriving or even getting a little better? quite the opposite, suffering increases years in year out because we’re mostly looking within to fix the person while largely reducing the toxic culture to a trigger for your own hypothesized disordered perceptions – how on earth did it come to this? self interest and good intentions and corruption?

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  2. I am a routine mindfulness user. In my 80s, and widowed two days after our diamond anniversary, I have found it a useful habit — just 15 minutes a day before I go up to bed. I am not particulalry vulnerable to depression and anxiety, but I like to feel that mindfulness has played a part over a two year difficult period.
    In fact I started long before the word was used. I developed a simple routine to become better at relaxation — particularly for stressful occasions, e.g. at the dentist. Some three or four years ago I decided to be more thorough, and now I use 15 minutes (by kitchen timer) working down from my eyes to my toes — simply recognising and checking that each part of my body is quiet and relaxed. I then breathe, remaining aware of my body, for a few minutes. It’s no big deal but I am pleased that, whenever faced by a challenge, I can slide into a peaceful state — within which I can make good decisions about my response.

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  3. I thought this was a really well balanced broadcast. Personally, I meditated regularly for about 5 years and initially experienced positive results. Then, about two years ago I had an episode and found myself visiting a suicide website immediately after a session. I think I inadvertently stumbled across something painful during what might be called ‘exploring difficulty’. I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety ever since While I fully acknowledge mindfulness has benefits for many individuals I am now recutant to return to aspects of its practice. I would strongly recommend that anyone with a history of mental health issues should proceed with caution and preferably with the guidance of a professional.

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  4. One thing that so many mindfulness-touting studies have in common is using a passive control (e.g., wait lists or null-control groups) to posture mindfulness-based treatments as effective. But how does MBSR compare to Solution-Focused Brief Therapy? Or Behavioural Activation? Or sitting on a stool with a slice of cheese stuck to one’s forehead? What about drop-out rates in 8-week MBSR programmes? What about the awkward on-again-off-again relationship between mindfulness and Buddhism? There are so many questions, and 30 years of no answers – really makes one wonder whether the mindfulness gurus prefer the status quo where the narrative is controlled by John Kabat-Zinn et al.

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  5. Thank goodness for this podcast and the accompanying comments, I was beginning to feel like a heretic! Mindfulness has its place, I like a few minutes mindfulness before work – it allows me to let go of shopping lists and be ready for the task at hand, and it is certainly beneficial for stopping rumination. Nothing could possibly be as virtuous as Mindfulness is oft purported to be and I consider it a part of a treatment and not a treatment in its own right.I was seriously beginning to think that I was missing ‘something’, I am much relieved to realise that if I am missing ‘something’ many others are too!

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  6. I think mindful living a healthy way to be, and after all, as a counsellor, I am endeavouring to raise my own self-awareness and that of my clients too. Noticing our feelings allows us to take responsibility for them.

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