If you’ve read any articles on mindfulness recently, you may have read that:
Or you may have read that:
2. Mindfulness is an over-hyped sham that doesn’t make a difference one way or another!
Or you may have read that:
3. Mindfulness practice actually causes harm!
Confused? Understandably! Let’s explore each of the above claims.
Claim 1: Is mindfulness an easy way to dramatically improve … pretty much everything in your life?
First, mindfulness is not easy. Mindfulness involves the ability to be aware and attentive of the current experience–even if that experience includes anxiety, anger, or urges–without feeling the need to immediately try to turn off the emotions or act on the urges. Thus, mindfulness practice can sometimes feel difficult and even painful.
Second, mindfulness is not a cure-all. (Nor is anything else in this world.) Which leads to Claim 2.
Claim 2: Is mindfulness an over-hyped sham?
Answer: It depends.
Hype about mindfulness has surpassed the evidence – due to some combination of researchers being overexcited about findings, journalists not understanding research, some studies having logistical or design limitations, and/or results being exaggerated for profit or prestige. The research on mindfulness is still in the early stages, and the hype will likely wax and wane over time.
After all, do you know what else has a history of hype surpassing evidence? Vegetables. And exercise. And vitamins. And even good ol’ hugs. Here’s a newsflash: Contrary to the sporadic hype in the past decades, none of the aforementioned items will dramatically improve every aspect of your life.
Important: If your motivation to practice mindfulness is at least partially to overcome dysregulated behavior, you are encouraged to seek a mental-health professional who is qualified in utilizing mindfulness in treatment. Mindfulness alone is less likely to fully address dysregulated behavior.
Note: Some well-intentioned, experienced mindfulness trainers may be extremely adept at helping people find spiritual enlightenment, but these trainers are often not qualified to help people address dysregulated behavior and other mental-health issues.
Unfortunately, other self-proclaimed experts may call themselves mental-health professionals without being qualified to do so. Warning: Anyone can legally call themselves titles like counselor, life coach, therapist, and psychotherapist–with absolutely no training or license. For qualified mental-health professionals, seek out professionals whose titles include psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, licensed mental health counselor, or psychiatrist – and/or find a facility certified in treating the behavior of interest. Inquire about the person’s training in treating dysregulated behaviors.
Claim 3: Can mindfulness practice actually cause harm?
Answer: Yes, in certain circumstances – which can almost always be addressed with the guidance of a qualified professional. For example:
Of note is that all of the above examples are caused by persons either misunderstanding mindfulness and/or practicing mindfulness without qualified guidance. Thus, proper understanding and guidance can be crucial when engaging in mindfulness practice.
In conclusion: Mindfulness is not an easy cure-all. It is also not utterly worthless, a sham, or (usually) harmful. The truth (surprise!) is not so simplistic.
The take-home message:
Thanks to Nancy Burns, B.A., and Cameron Pugach, M.A., for their contributions to this post.