Mindfulness and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Stress
Republished with permission of Natural Standards Research Collaboration ©2008


Mindfulness-based stress reduction may be more effective than cognitive-behavioral stress reduction, a new study reports.

Mindfulness is an approach in which attention is focused on a physical sensation (such as breath). When thoughts intrude, the individual returns to the focus. Attention is placed on the present moment, rather than on the future or past. This technique may involve a "body scan," in which one focuses on the body from head to feet, concentrating on areas of pain or illness. This is usually performed while lying down. Regular practice is suggested to enhance self-awareness.

Researchers from New Mexico investigated the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive-behavioral stress reduction in 50 subjects. Participants self-selected into mindfulness-based stress reduction (36 participants) or cognitive-behavioral stress reduction (14 participants) courses taught at different times. There were no initial differences between the mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive-behavioral stress reduction subjects among demographics, including age, gender, education and income.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction was an eight-week course using meditation, gentle yoga and body-scanning exercises to increase mindfulness. Cognitive-behavioral stress reduction was an eight-week course using cognitive and behavioral techniques to change thinking and reduce distress.

The researchers analyzed perceived stress, depression, psychological well-being, neuroticism, binge eating, energy, pain and mindfulness before and after each course. Weekly meetings for both courses were held in a large room on a university medical center campus.

The study found that mindfulness-based stress reduction subjects improved in all eight outcomes, with all of the differences being significant. Similarly, cognitive-behavioral stress reduction subjects improved in six of eight outcomes, with significant improvements on well-being, perceived stress and depression.

According to the researchers, mindfulness-based stress reduction subjects had better outcomes across all variables, when compared with the cognitive-behavioral stress reduction subjects; particularly, mindfulness-based stress reduction subjects had better outcomes with regard to mindfulness, energy, pain and a trend for binge eating.

The study authors concluded that while mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive-behavioral stress reduction may both be effective in reducing perceived stress and depression, mindfulness-based stress reduction may be more effective in increasing mindfulness and energy and reducing pain. The authors recommended that future studies examine the differential effects of cognitive behavioral and mindfulness-based interventions and attempt to explain the reasons for the differences.

References:
Bruce W. Smith, Brian M. Shelley, Jeanne Dalen, Kathryn Wiggins, Erin Tooley, Jennifer Bernard. A Pilot Study Comparing the Effects of Mindfulness-Based and Cognitive-Behavioral Stress Reduction. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. April 1, 2008, 14(3): 251-258.