The Toronto *Globe & Mail* includes an article: “Meditating through
mental illness” by Anne McIlroy. 15 Aug 08.
Here are some excerpts:
The patients are sitting still, their eyes closed, meditating, on the
floor of a group therapy room at the Centre for Addiction and Mental
Health in Toronto.
It is the fifth week of an eight-week training course in mindfulness
meditation for people recovering from depression.
Their goal is to treat any troubling thoughts or emotions with the same
detachment with which they monitor the breath flowing in and out of
Mindfulness-based psychotherapy is growing rapidly in popularity, and
these patients are part of a $2.5-million clinical trial to assess
whether it can prevent relapses as effectively as antidepressant medications.
Zindel Segal, a psychologist at CAMH, is a pioneer in the field of
assessing the value of mindfulness meditation as a treatment for mental
He is also studying how it physically changes the brain in ways that may
be helpful to people recovering from depression or anxiety disorders.
Mindfulness meditation…involves sitting still, with eyes closed,
relaxing, and taking note of bodily sensations; the pressure of the
floor on your foot, your tummy rising as you breathe. When a person’s
attention wanders, they are instructed to redirect it back to their breathing.
Once people can do this, Dr. Segal says, they can turn their attention
to a troubling thought – an ugly breakup of a romantic relationship, for
example. The idea is to endure and accept difficult emotions without
trying to change them, to view passing thoughts as an impartial observer.
“It helps you step back from automatic reactions built into emotions for
evolutionary reasons,” he says. “Fright, alarm, rejection are
experiences that can come over us very quickly.”
Pausing at these moments can be helpful for people with a history of
depression, he says. They can label and observe emotions rather than
Dr. Segal, who holds the Morgan Firestone Chair in Psychotherapy at the
University of Toronto, became interested in mindfulness meditation in
the early 1990s, after University of Massachusetts biologist Jon Kabat-
Zinn found that it helped patients with chronic pain.
At the time, Dr. Segal was investigating how psychological treatments
such as cognitive behavioural therapy work in patients with depression.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is talk-based therapy that teaches
participants new ways of thinking and behaving to overcome negative
thought patterns and manage their symptoms.
Studies have shown it can prevent relapses as well as antidepressants
can, and Dr. Segal and other scientists have found it can lead to
physical changes in the brain.
He thought a version of CBT based on mindfulness meditation might offer
patients an advantage, but was worried about being dismissed by his
colleagues as being on the fringe of science.
“We didn’t call it mindfulness. We called it attention control
training,” he says.
That was a decade ago, and since then he and other researchers have made
intriguing discoveries about mindfulness meditation.
Richard Davidson, an American neuroscientist, has done brain scans of
Tibetan monks and found they have more activity in their left prefrontal
lobes, an indication of positive emotions and good mood.
Dr. Segal wants to know how it changes the brains of people with mood
disorders. “To them, returning to normal moods is an important goal.”
He and colleague Adam Anderson, a psychologist at the University of
Toronto, recently reported the preliminary results of a study done at
St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto.
It involved two groups of patients suffering from depression, anxiety or
chronic pain. One group had taken eight weeks of mindfulness training.
The patients watched and reflected on scenes from sad movies, such as
Terms of Endearment, while a functional magnetic resonance imager took a
picture of their brains.
While all the patients reported feeling sad after watching the tear-
jerker scenes, the brains of those who had undergone mindfulness
training responded differently.
The training seemed to quiet parts of the brain that respond to negative
emotion with rumination and self-judgment, but to activate another
region that integrates information about heart rate, posture and movement.
The complete article is online at:
Comment: This author uses the word “detachment”, which can be confused with ideas of lack of interest, not caring, non-engagement, not mattering and the like. Less confusing might be “non-judgmental”, “non-attachment” or “not holding on to”. In this way, our experience is noted AND experienced (not suppressed), but we don’t elaborate on it, fight it, or judge it.
Another comment: Hakomi body centered psychotherapy has been teaching the use of mindfulness in therapy for 30 years.