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Thread: Buddhism and Depression

  1. #1

    Buddhism and Depression

    An interesting article about Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Zen teacher, Morinaga Soko-Roshi.

    As a side note, one of my favorite Zen quotes comes from Morinaga Roshi, a Rinzai teacher who used to be President of Hanazono University (the Rinzai "Notre Dame" in Japan). Morinaga Roshi once said, when asked to define a "Roshi," "A roshi is anyone who calls himself by the term and can get other people to do the same."

    Buddhism beats depression
    by Ed Halliwell, The Guardian, January 5, 2010

    Should the health service sponsor Buddhist techniques to beat depression? Why not, if they work

    London, UK -- 2010 could be the year that mindfulness meditation goes mainstream in the UK. It's already endorsed as a treatment for depression by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, and today a major mental health charity is calling for meditation-based courses to be offered much more widely on the NHS.

    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.

    (GAD)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.

    By secularising mindfulness training, and packaging it in a form that makes it amenable to clinical testing, an approach that might otherwise have been seen in medical circles as new-age flim-flam is being taken very seriously. So seriously that according to an ICM survey of GPs conducted for the Mental Health Foundation report, 64% of doctors would like to receive training in mindfulness themselves.

    For that we can partly thank Morinaga Soko-Roshi, a zen teacher of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the doctor who first brought mindfulness training into US healthcare services in the 1970s. Kabat-Zinn knew that it would be considered unacceptably 'religious' to offer Buddhist training to his patients - however, he also had a strong hunch that the meditation techniques said to lead to insight on the Buddhist path might also help people cope with chronic illness. Unsure of what to do, he went to see Soko-Roshi and asked his advice. "Throw out Buddha! Throw out Zen!" came the abrupt reply.

    From that, Kabat-Zinn's secular mindfulness-based stress-reduction course, a progenitor of MBCT, was born. MBSR is now taught in hundreds, perhaps thousands of institutions across the US not just hospitals and medical settings, but schools, community centres, prisons and workplaces.

    We are some way behind in the UK. Although there are now mindfulness centres at universities such as Oxford, Exeter and Bangor (the Scottish government also deserves great credit for investing strongly in mindfulness training for health professionals) most NHS trusts lack the infrastructure and personnel to offer MBCT courses to patients who could benefit from it. Even though the scientific evidence is persuasive, and GPs are on board, there simply aren't the courses for people to access.

    But with the embracing of mindfulness by a growing range of powerful institutions, whose support is based on hard-nosed evidence rather than any particular commitment to Buddhism, that may now be about to change.

  2. #2

    Re: Buddhism and Depression


    Here in sweden "Mindfulness" and "KBT" has become quite the craze over the last 6 months (sort of), mainly maybe due to it's foremost swedish spokesperson does a lot of appearances here and there.
    And i must say that i like the Jon kabat-zinn books i've read...


  3. #3
    Member roky's Avatar
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    Jul 2008
    silver city, new mexico, usa

    Re: Buddhism and Depression

    yup, must admit i taught it when i worked in the mental health clinic -- and that i had one of my few "successes"(like zazen, definitely a field where you don't want to be looking for a specific outcome) in therapy -- the long-term, very codependent individual, became so inspired by the weekly "relaxation therapy" group, that i referred her to kabat-zinns longer program, which she completed and greatly benefited from

    no false illusions, though, this was one of the few bright spots in a clinic who's primary function was to control folks with mind-altering chemicals

    like the roshi said, though, you got to throw out the "zen"

    oh yes, and it helps that this is the only thing that has ever worked for me, personally

    gassho, roky

  4. #4

    Re: Buddhism and Depression

    It is very hopeful that Buddhist approaches are starting to connect with mainstream mental health services in the UK and there is an extensive push for people to develop as cognitive behaviour therapists to work on the connection between thoughts, emotions and experiences. There is also a fascinating approach which is rapidly gaining exposure called Compassion Based Therapy based on metta practice with a very wide ranging theoretical approach developing.

    Like many things Jon Kabat Zinn's work is being applied to a wide ranging group of human problems. Interestingly mindfulness approaches do seem to be helpful with recurrent depression.

    I work in these fields in the UK and there seem to be number of risks which could have an impact similar to the effect on yoga in the UK in the '90's where the fundamental philosophy became diluted and distorted by financial and media pressure and the desire to try to adapt a philosophy to the harsh concerns of NHS outcome management techniques.

    In the UK it seems that Buddhism is facing some major challenges which needs clear leadership so that its fundamental philosophy does not become distorted as it adapts to the current interest in its approaches to basic life problems.


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