Mindfulness in Mental Health: A Critical Reflection

Mindfulness in Mental Health: A Critical Reflection

mindfulness1

We were recently invited to write a paper for the inaugural issue of the Journal of Psychology, Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Brain Stimulation. Our contribution (which was co-authored with our friend and colleague Professor Mark Griffiths) was entitled ‘Mindfulness in Mental Health: A Critical Reflection’. In light of the substantial growth of scientific and public interest into the health-related applications of mindfulness, our paper discussed whether the scientific evidence for mindfulness-based interventions actually merits their growing popularity amongst mental health practitioners, scientists, and the public more generally. We concluded that mindfulness-based interventions have the potential to play an important role in mental health treatment settings. However, due to the rapidity at which mindfulness has been taken out of its traditional Buddhist setting, and what is possibly evidence of media and/or scientific hype concerning the effectiveness of mindfulness, we recommended that future research should seek to:

  1. Establish whether the benefits of participating in mindfulness-based interventions are maintained over periods of years rather than just months.
  2. Examine whether there are any risks or unwanted consequences associated with participating in mindfulness-based interventions.
  3. Make sure that research findings are not influenced by what is perhaps best described as a form of ‘intervention effect’. Rather than behavioural and psychological changes arising from actually practising mindful awareness, it is possible that some of the positive outcomes observed by researchers actually reflect a belief amongst participants that they are receiving a very popular and ‘proven’ therapeutic or ‘spiritual’ technique. In other words, rather than mindfulness practice per se leading to health improvements, one of the reasons that mindfulness-based interventions are effective might be due to participants’ expectations, and their belief that mindfulness works.
  4. Investigate the Buddhist position that sustainable improvements to mental and spiritual health typically require consistent daily mindfulness practice over a period of many years (i.e., they do not arise after attendance at just eight two-hour classes with some self-practice in between).

The full reference for the article is shown below, and the article can be downloaded (free of charge) from here: Mindfulness_A critical reflection 2015

Article Reference: Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Mindfulness in Mental Health: A Critical Reflection. Journal of Psychology, Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Brain Stimulation, 1(1), 102.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Should Mindfulness be taught to Improve Military and Business Effectiveness?

Should Mindfulness be taught to Improve Military and Business Effectiveness?

military

During one of our recent talks on mindfulness, we were asked whether we feel it is ethically and morally correct for mindfulness to be taught for the purposes of improving military or business effectiveness. Given that mindfulness was originally taught as a means of fostering peace and spiritual awakening, some people are of the view that it is inappropriate for businesses and the military to teach mindfulness to their employees in order to give them a strategic advantage over the competition. This seems to be quite a hot topic at the moment – especially because projects investigating the applications of mindfulness in military and business settings are already underway. Consequently, we have decided to dedicate this entire post to providing our view on this issue.

In the Buddhist teachings, mindfulness occurs as just one aspect (the seventh aspect) of a fundamental teaching known as the Noble Eightfold Path. Although the Noble Eightfold Path (obviously) consists of eight different elements, these elements do not function as standalone entities. In other words, it is not the case that one starts at the first practice of the Noble Eightfold Path (known as ‘right view’) and concludes one’s training in this practice before moving onto the second practice (known as ‘right intention’.). Rather, although the Noble Eightfold Path has eight different elements, it is in fact just one path and just one practice. This means that whenever one aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path is present and functioning correctly, then all of the other aspects are also present and functioning correctly. For example, without, ‘right view’, ‘right intention’, ‘right speech’, ‘right action’, ‘right livelihood’, ‘right effort’, and ‘right concentration’, there cannot be ‘right mindfulness’.

Thus, if a person in the military is taught mindfulness correctly, then they are also being directly or indirectly instructed in practices intended to cultivate ethical awareness (i.e., ‘right speech’, ‘right action’, ‘right livelihood’), a compassionate and spiritual outlook (i.e., ‘right intention’), and wisdom (i.e., ‘right view’). Accordingly, people in the military or in business that practice mindfulness correctly will also be learning how to become more responsible, wiser, and compassionate world citizens. Therefore, we don’t really need to worry about whether such people will “miss-use” the mindfulness teachings. In actual fact, many accomplished Buddhist practitioners believe that the Buddha’s teaching on mindfulness are so potent and effective that anybody that practices them correctly can’t help but become a better human being.

Of course, there is a strong possibility that people in the military or in business could be taught to practice “mindfulness” outside of the above system of ethical and spiritual values. However, we also don’t particularly need to concern ourselves about this because in such situations it is no longer mindfulness that is being taught. In other words, one can’t really raise a grievance that an organisation is misusing mindfulness if in fact what they are teaching isn’t mindfulness.

Apologies if you were expecting a lengthier discourse but we don’t think there is much else to discuss on this topic.

 

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

 

Further Reading

Bodhi, B. (1994). The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.

Dalai Lama. (2001). Stages of meditation: training the mind for wisdom. London: Rider.

Gampopa. (1998). The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: The wish-fulfilling gem of the noble teachings. (A. K. Trinlay Chodron, Ed., & K. Konchong Gyaltsen, Trans.) New York: Snow Lion Publications.

Khyentse D. (2007). The heart of compassion: the thirty-seven verses on the practice of a Bodhisattva. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical psychology: Towards effective integration. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, DOI: 10.1037/a0035859.