A new study suggests mindfulness therapy can help relieve emotional distress in cancer patients — no small matter, as some 35 to 40 percent of cancer patients suffer from significant symptoms of anxiety and depression.
In the new study, a Danish interdisciplinary research team determined training and exercises in mindfulness teach cancer patients to be more conscious of life as it happens, instead of worrying about the past and the future.
Practically, this may include a redirection of thoughts about how their past behavior may have contributed to their disease. Intervention also helps individuals overcome the fear of what will happen to them in future, including worries about death.
Mindfulness-based psychological therapy is a relatively new approach based on ancient Buddhist meditation techniques that train individuals in a special way of being attentive to the present moment.
According to proponents such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., mindfulness teaches you not to judge and evaluate yourself, your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Mindfulness is believed to help by improving attention control and gaining greater acceptance.
The resulting effect is less negative thoughts and worries and therefore reduced anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness-based psychological therapy:
- includes the programs mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), developed by Kabat-Zinn, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT);
- takes place in groups with eight weekly sessions;
- includes a key element of the program that participants practice mindfulness techniques as daily homework;
- has proved effective in handling stress, anxiety and depression symptoms as well as in preventing relapse in persons with recurrent depression.
In recent years, a number of researchers have specifically studied the effect of the method on psychological problems among cancer patients. Prior research has found that depression in cancer patients results in prolonged hospitalization and increased mortality.
Experts say the prevalence of depression is significant in cancer patients as almost 50 percent of patients suffer serious anxiety and depression symptoms with the first year of diagnosis. Patients are vulnerable to low mood and an aversion to activity; in addition to being the disorder associated with the greatest loss of quality of life, depression is also associated with a high risk of suicide.
Researcher and doctoral candidate Jacob Piet at Aarhus University and colleagues decided to study the effects of mindfulness training on cancer patients with symptoms of anxiety and depression. The research is based on a meta-analysis of 22 studies of mindfulness-based therapy and involves more than 1,400 cancer patients.
They found mindfulness has a documented effect as an effective and inexpensive therapy; the positive effect was not only seen immediately after therapy, but was maintained for at least six months following the therapy.
The meta-analysis is important as it improves reliability and validity and enhances generalizability, Piet said.
The findings have been published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
Source: Aarhus University