5/27/2008 *New York Times* includes an article: “Lotus Therapy” by
Benedict Carey.

Here’s how the article begins:

The patient sat with his eyes closed, submerged in the rhythm of his own
breathing, and after a while noticed that he was thinking about his
troubled relationship with his father.

“I was able to be there, present for the pain,” he said, when the
meditation session ended. “To just let it be what it was, without
thinking it through.”

The therapist nodded.

“Acceptance is what it was,” he continued. “Just letting it be. Not
trying to change anything.”

“That’s it,” the therapist said. “That’s it, and that’s big.”

This exercise in focused awareness and mental catch-and-release of
emotions has become perhaps the most popular new psychotherapy technique
of the past decade. Mindfulness meditation, as it is called, is rooted
in the teachings of a fifth-century B.C. Indian prince, Siddhartha
Gautama, later known as the Buddha. It is catching the attention of talk
therapists of all stripes, including academic researchers, Freudian
analysts in private practice and skeptics who see all the hallmarks of
another fad.

For years, psychotherapists have worked to relieve suffering by
reframing the content of patients’ thoughts, directly altering behavior
or helping people gain insight into the subconscious sources of their
despair and anxiety. The promise of mindfulness meditation is that it
can help patients endure flash floods of emotion during the therapeutic
process — and ultimately alter reactions to daily experience at a level
that words cannot reach. “The interest in this has just taken off,” said
Zindel Segal, a psychologist at the Center of Addiction and Mental
Health in Toronto, where the above group therapy session was taped. “And
I think a big part of it is that more and more therapists are practicing
some form of contemplation themselves and want to bring that into therapy.”

At workshops and conferences across the country, students, counselors
and psychologists in private practice throng lectures on mindfulness.
The National Institutes of Health is financing more than 50 studies
testing mindfulness techniques, up from 3 in 2000, to help relieve
stress, soothe addictive cravings, improve attention, lift despair and
reduce hot flashes.

Some proponents say Buddha’s arrival in psychotherapy signals a broader
opening in the culture at large — a way to access deeper healing, a
hidden path revealed.

Yet so far, the evidence that mindfulness meditation helps relieve
psychiatric symptoms is thin, and in some cases, it may make people
worse, some studies suggest. Many researchers now worry that the
enthusiasm for Buddhist practice will run so far ahead of the science
that this promising psychological tool could turn into another fad.

“I’m very open to the possibility that this approach could be effective,
and it certainly should be studied,” said Scott Lilienfeld, a psychology
professor at Emory. “What concerns me is the hype, the talk about
changing the world, this allure of the guru that the field of
psychotherapy has a tendency to cultivate.”

Buddhist meditation came to psychotherapy from mainstream academic
medicine. In the 1970s, a graduate student in molecular biology, Jon
Kabat-Zinn, intrigued by Buddhist ideas, adapted a version of its
meditative practice that could be easily learned and studied. It was by
design a secular version, extracted like a gemstone from the many-
layered foundation of Buddhist teaching, which has sprouted a wide
variety of sects and spiritual practices and attracted 350 million
adherents worldwide.

In transcendental meditation and other types of meditation,
practitioners seek to transcend or “lose” themselves. The goal of
mindfulness meditation was different, to foster an awareness of every
sensation as it unfolds in the moment.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn taught the practice to people suffering from chronic pain
at the University of Massachusetts medical school. In the 1980s he
published a series of studies demonstrating that two-hour courses, given
once a week for eight weeks, reduced chronic pain more effectively than
treatment as usual.

Word spread, discreetly at first. “I think that back then, other
researchers had to be very careful when they talked about this, because
they didn’t want to be seen as New Age weirdos,” Dr. Kabat-Zinn, now a
professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Massachusetts, said
in an interview. “So they didn’t call it mindfulness or meditation.
“After a while, we put enough studies out there that people became more
comfortable with it.”

One person who noticed early on was Marsha Linehan, a psychologist at
the University of Washington who was trying to treat deeply troubled
patients with histories of suicidal behavior. “Trying to treat these
patients with some change-based behavior therapy just made them worse,
not better,” Dr. Linehan said in an interview. “With the really hard
stuff, you need something else, something that allows people to tolerate
these very strong emotions.”

In the 1990s, Dr. Linehan published a series of studies finding that a
therapy that incorporated Zen Buddhist mindfulness, “radical
acceptance,” practiced by therapist and patient significantly cut the
risk of hospitalization and suicide attempts in the high-risk patients.

Finally, in 2000, a group of researchers including Dr. Segal in Toronto,
J. Mark G. Williams at the University of Wales and John D. Teasdale at
the Medical Research Council in England published a study that found
that eight weekly sessions of mindfulness halved the rate of relapse in
people with three or more episodes of depression.

With Dr. Kabat-Zinn, they wrote a popular book, “The Mindful Way Through
Depression.” Psychotherapists’ curiosity about mindfulness, once
tentative, turned into “this feeding frenzy, of sorts, that we have
going on now,” Dr. Kabat-Zinn said.

Mindfulness meditation is easy to describe. Sit in a comfortable
position, eyes closed, preferably with the back upright and unsupported.
Relax and take note of body sensations, sounds and moods. Notice them
without judgment. Let the mind settle into the rhythm of breathing. If
it wanders (and it will), gently redirect attention to the breath. Stay
with it for at least 10 minutes.

After mastering control of attention, some therapists say, a person can
turn, mentally, to face a threatening or troubling thought — about, say,
a strained relationship with a parent — and learn simply to endure the
anger or sadness and let it pass, without lapsing into rumination or
trying to change the feeling, a move that often backfires.

The complete article is online at:
<http://tinyurl.com/649wgl>.

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