Somatic Symptoms and Mindfulness-Based Practices

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.”

Reference:
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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  • norah

    norah

    September 25th, 2013 at 10:43 AM

    This kind of treatment isn’t invasive and isn’t that expensive, so it seems like it would at least be worth a try for someone who has exhausted other forms of treatment and has had little success. I know that there are bound to be those who would automatically rule it out because it isn’t tried and true or because it doesn’t involve popping a pill, and in all honesty those are probably the people who would find the least amount of success with something like this anyway. If they already have their minds shut to what the possibilities could be then they are never going to see the real benefit of alternative therapies. But those who are open to something different and who are a little more expansive and open minded, well, they could be amazed at the benefits that they could receive from this kind of treatment. If I was someone who had tried everything else but had still found no relief and I thought that this could be an option for me, then why wouldn’t I at least give it a try? It isn’t going to hurt anything, it could only help, and it may even offer me some relief that I haven’t been able to find in any other way.

  • Gage

    Gage

    September 26th, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    Don’t you know that if there are people out there who don’t get any relief from this then there are going to be all kind of naysayers out there saying that they just don’t want any help? Total crap, but you know there are people who think like that.

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