Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)


Since its inception in the early 1980s in the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre this approach to stress reduction has spread to over 200 clinics across the USA. It is now available in New Zealand and Max Lloyd, who practices as a counsellor and psychotherapist at the health@11 clinic in Ponsonby, has recently completed a week of training in MBSR run by a member of the original Massachusetts clinic.

What is MBSR? Put simply, it is a combination of gentle meditation, basic yoga postures, body awareness and an orientation to the present moment that results in significant improvements in one’s ability to handle stress, pain and illness. It is supported by an impressive research base which points to positive effects in a number of medical and emotional conditions, including positive enhancement of relationships and contribution to general health outcomes. It has been incorporated into a number of other programmes aimed at reducing psychological distress, such as Linehan’s DBT model and cognitive behavioural therapy. MBSR has been shown to impact positively on psychological conditions such as depression, generalised anxiety disorder, binge eating, enhancement of emotional wellbeing and general mental health.

Mindfulness has been described as “the self regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment”. (Bishop et al, Clinical Psychology: Science & Practice, V11N3.) It also involves “adopting a particular orientation that is characterised by curiosity, openness and acceptance”(ditto) In learning mindfulness, one learns how to pay attention to a variety of mental, emotional and physical processes that usually go unnoticed, yet have a profound effect on mood and behaviour. Noticing what is happening to one’s emotional, mental and physical experience moment by moment offers an opportunity to prevent “automatic” responses. For instance, by becoming aware of negative self talk as close as possible to the time it begins in the mind, one is afforded a chance to respond to it differently from the normal pattern, which might involve considerable negative emotion and behaviour. Thus mindfulness becomes a significant strategy in breaking old and unwanted negative ways of responding to our experience.

While MBSR, as developed by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues in the University of Massachusetts, has its roots in Buddhist meditation practice, it is about attention and is therefore universal. It is not tied to any particular set of religious or other beliefs. It is easy to learn and practice, differing from many eastern derived practices that are focused on concentration in its sense of gentleness and open curiosity about the mental, emotional and physical phenomena that arise in the individual.