A report I wrote for the Mental Health Foundation highlights the impressive clinical evidence for an approach called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) – the eight-week courses have been shown to reduce relapse rates by half among people who have suffered several episodes of depression. The report also finds that very few patients who could benefit from mindfulness training are currently being referred for the treatment – just one in 20 GPs prescribes MBCT regularly, despite the fact that nearly three-quarters of doctors think it would be helpful for their patients with mental health problems. Changing that could make a massive difference not only to them, but to the economy – the cost of depression to the UK has been estimated at £7.5 billion every year.
Despite its convoluted name, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is pretty straightforward – a set of classes that teach meditation practices which help people pay attention to their breathing, body sensations, thoughts and feelings in a kind, accepting, non-judgemental way. Mindfulness training shows us how to notice and work with our experience rather than engaging in a futile struggle to fight or run away from it. That may sound simple – perhaps because it is – but developing this mindful way of relating seems to alleviate some of the suffering that struggling with life's pain creates.
Mindfulness is especially relevant to depression, in which sufferers tend to get caught up with cycles of 'rumination' - when people get depressed they churn negative thoughts over and over in their minds, a pattern which actually perpetuates their low mood. Mindfulness short-circuits rumination – by learning how to pay attention to our present moment experience, rather than getting tied up in negative thinking about the past or future, we create more space in our minds from which new, more effective decision-making can emerge. It isn't a miracle cure – while simple, the techniques take time and effort to master, but mindfulness-based therapies are now supported by a substantial and rapidly-growing evidence base that suggest they can help people cope better not just with depression, but also with the stress of conditions ranging from chronic pain and anxiety to cancer and HIV.
Mindfulness-based therapies are fundamentally and unapologetically inspired by Buddhist principles and tools – the Buddha both noted that suffering (as opposed to pain) is created by struggling with experience and prescribed mindfulness meditation as a way of working with it skilfully. However, the B-word rarely, if ever, gets a mention on MBCT courses – their reputation in health services has been built on scientific evidence rather than spiritual conviction. This is the only way it could be – while some of us Buddhists might argue that practising mindfulness can open up insights about the nature of mind that go way beyond what can be measured in a randomised-controlled trial, the most important thing here is that techniques which reduce suffering are presented in whatever way will make them most accessible to the largest number of people.
So, while I may have oversold CBT in the post below, my point stands. Today it turns out that Barbara O'Brien's been smeared by the Family Research Council. Her repsonse on the Tiger Woods/Brit Hume/Buddhsim affiar was distorted by one Peter Sprigg.
Apparently, Hume’s apologetics require an apology not just because he violated the well-known constitutional principle of the separation of church and television (?), but because he expressed his heretical disbelief in the scientific theory that all religions are equally valuable and effective.
Odd, Buddhists have had effective techniques for combatting things like depression and phobias for millenia, and Christianity...or should I say Western culture, had to invent the field before they could reach out to Buddhism for methods relating to the cure!
Now I don't like playing my religion's better than yours, especially since Christianity is a relatively easy target, what with the sort-of filicide as a quid pro quo for wrongs presumably made against a Semitic tribal god and what-not. But let's face it, when it comes to efficacy, ...
Anyhow, here's a comment I left on the FRC post (and Barbara O'Brien's blog). Let's see if the FRC has the courage to post it on their blog:
The title of that article was “Persecution for the Brit Hume Witness.” yet I read of no lion ripping anyone to shreds, nor did I read of any beheadings, flayings, amputations, vandalism or buildings being burnt.
As far as the “effectiveness” of religions, I’ve alluded to that on my blog in the past couple of days: would Hume accept a “mindfulness” based therapy to help him deal with the grief over his son’s suicide, if it were known to him to be “Buddhist” – like?
P.S., Read and understand what Barbara says about reincarnation and Buddhism, dear Christians, before you write something that makes you look worse than foolish.