MBSR is the acronym for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and it’s a form of therapy that has been demonstrated to be highly effective. As the name suggests, it uses mindfulness practices to help people manage their stress, but it goes beyond that.
Developed by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970s, MBSR is an eight-week course featuring mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and yoga to help people become more mindful in their daily lives. This is especially important when working with populations experiencing clinical levels of pain, be it physical or emotional (cancer, fibro-myalgia, depression).
Jon Kabat-Zinn is passionate about the integration of mindfulness into medicine. The effects of MBSR on the brain and the immune system are important for their implications into life satisfaction of people experiencing a variety of diseases.
MBSR has been associated with changes in the brain regions that regulate emotion, self-referential processing, learning and memory processes (Hölzel 201). Through MBSR, people learn to elongate the space that Frankl references in the quote above, and thus, are able to choose a different response.
For example, in one study, participants randomly assigned to an eight-week MBSR group were compared with a control group on self-reported measures of depression, anxiety and psychopathology, and on brain activity after watching sad movies. Researchers discovered the MBSR participants had significantly less anxiety, depression and somatic distress compared with the control group. In addition, the brain imaging data indicated that the mindfulness group had less neural reactivity whilst watching the movies compared with the control group, and they displayed distinctly different neural responses while watching the movies than they had prior to the MBSR intervention.
These results suggest that mindfulness meditation shifts people’s ability to use emotion regulation strategies in a way that enables them to experience emotion selectively, and that the emotions they experience may be processed differently in the brain (Farb et al., 2010; Williams, 2010).
MBSR is a fully secular program (though definitely rooted in Buddhist practices) that has been shown to benefit a broad range of people and conditions (Grossman et al., 2010). It tends to be delivered by healthcare professionals.
For a colloquial review of research on MBSR, watch the documentary Free the Mind. For a snapshot of the demonstrated outcomes of MBSR and other mindfulness based interventions, read the article What is Mindfulness? and How Can Mindfulness Help Me?
~ Viktor Frankl