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3. Research with Adults



In 1979 an American biochemistry graduate student, Jon Kabat-Zinn, opened the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Clinic in the basement of the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre. The programme had the ambitious aim of supporting a whole range of people with chronic difficulties that medicine at the time could not support any further. The groups included people with chronic back problems, stress and anxiety, individuals with sleep difficulties and physical problems related to stress, such as psoriasis. The classes of up to 30 adults would work together for sessions of two hours and the core of the teaching focused on formal mindfulness meditation practices. Over time this work developed into the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme. An eight week course designed to teach patients both formal mindfulness meditation and how to use this more generally in dealing with whatever difficulties they were struggling with. Very positive results soon followed along with a popular introductory text - Full Catastrophe Living.


If you would like to see Jon Kabat-Zinn at work, you can view below the great documentary by Bill Moyers aired on American TV in the 1990s. This shows Jon working with a group of adults struggling with chronic pain and stress. Jon's work is aired in the first 45 minutes of this video and shows the effect of this eight week course on ordinary and initially rather sceptical participants.


Interest in MBSR as a way to support anxious, stressed or depressed people gathered pace in the academic community. In 1980 there were no citations in the Web of Science (a database of academic papers) for the term Mindfulness. In 1990 there 5 citations, and in 2000 there were 21. However, by 2010 there 353 citations and last year (2015) there were 1,323.


In the UK interest in mindfulness developed after three researchers - Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale - developed a modified version of Jon Kabat-Zinn's MBSR programme to help people specifically suffering with recurrent depression. This new programme - Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was trialled in the late 1990s and the results published in 2000. The programme produced significant reductions in the rates of relapse (that is, it helped the participants stay well and not slip back into depression). It was sufficiently impressive that MBCT was quickly adopted by NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) as a recommended treatment to prevent depressive relapse.


You can see Mark Williams below talking about mindfulness more broadly, including a discussion of the role of insight.