Mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) incorporates Buddhist and other spiritual principles as well as cognitive behavioral and psychological approaches to therapy. Mindfulness based cognitive therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction and other forms of mindfulness practices have all been shown to be quite effective at helping people reduce negative self-appraisals and decrease symptoms associated with anxiety, posttraumatic stress, depression and other mental health problems.
However, little is known about how much MBCT could help decrease somatic symptoms. Conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and fibromyalgia are difficult and expensive to treat. People living with these conditions often require long-term care that could involve a number of healthcare approaches. These conditions and other somatic health problems place a significant financial burden on healthcare and individuals.
Shaheen E. Lakhan of the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation in Los Angeles, California wanted to see if MBCT, which has proven effective for many emotional issues, could also be effective for somatic symptoms. To test this theory and to add to the scant research on this topic, Lakhan analyzed 13 separate studies devoted to MBT practices and somatic illnesses and found that overall, MBT was helpful at reducing symptom severity in most cases. Further, participant samples with IBS seemed to see the greatest reductions in somatic symptoms as well as anxiety and depression. They also had the greatest improvement in overall quality of life as a result of MBT when compared to control participants or those with fibromyalgia, CFS, or other chronic conditions.
When Lakhan looked at CFS specifically, the results revealed that quality of life was least affected by the MBT, but other symptoms decreased. The participants with fibromyalgia improved the least, exhibiting only moderate significance in reduction of symptom severity.
Although these results are mixed and show MBT has different influences on different somatic conditions, overall the findings still demonstrate the benefits of MBT for people living with somatic illnesses. Lahan added, “MBT is a low-cost intervention which has the potential to improve the quality of life of such patients, and reduce the burden on the health service.”
Lakhan, S.E., Schofield, K.L. (2013), Mindfulness-based therapies in the treatment of somatization disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71834. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071834
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