A couple of weeks ago, Scientific American published an article entitled, "Where's the Proof that Mindfulness Meditation works?" The author, Bret Stetka, warns the reader that "many psychologists, neuroscientists, and meditation experts are afraid that hype is outpacing the science". As a scientist and practitioner, I cannot agree more. Firstly, although I am a staunch supporter of mindfulness-based interventions, particularly those that have been evaluated by randomized clinical trials and with active control groups (e.g. MBSR, MBCT, MBRP), there are many, many other approaches that are being created without ANY scientific scrutiny that tout the same effects as these well established standardized interventions. That really bugs me. You should not compare apples to oranges. Secondly, even in rigorous randomized clinical trials, evidence of statistical significance is not always the same as clinical relevance. For example, a 10-point increase in attention on an particular attention task may not have significant relevance in everyday life. Thirdly, there are limited studies that evaluate the potential negative effects of the practice. That is why, as trained MBSR instructors, we provide orientations, and consider the exclusionary criteria when considering the appropriateness of someone participating in our programs. We tell people in our orientations, "It is sometimes stressful to take the stress reduction program". We don't want to strip away someone's defenses when they are not psychologically ready to do so.
So although the journey to prove the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions for a variety of maladies is very promising, there is still more work to be done.
So, what is the general public to do? I recommend the following:
When considering taking a mindfulness-based intervention, I frequently refer to the slogan of the Sy Syms School of Business, "An educated consumer is our best customer"!