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Research News at Vanderbilt

Osher Center to study standards for mindfulness training

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Meditation and deep relaxation are among the many techniques used in mindfulness-based stress reduction. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

As mindfulness grows in popularity as a treatment option for conditions ranging from anxiety to chronic pain, experts in integrative medicine at Vanderbilt are doing research to better quantify its effectiveness and setting standards for how it is administered.

Parameters need to be established, said Michelle Foote-Pearce, D.Min., M.A., MSN, LPC-MHSP, R.N., director of Mindfulness Programs and Outreach for the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Vanderbilt.

The Osher Center has launched a training program for teaching mindfulness at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), where it has been a treatment option for more than a decade. The program is designed for health care providers who incorporate mindfulness in their treatment plans.

“There’s a lot happening across the country,” Foote-Pearce said. “It is all in flux. Some places have a certification course. Some places have years-long extensive training required, but there is no uniformity yet around teaching mindfulness. We are on that leading edge.”

Proper training is important, she said, because mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is more than just a relaxation technique. Any patient who participates only in a meditation or relaxation practice is not benefitting from mindfulness. MBSR teaches patients how to consciously take charge of stress, illness and the challenges of life by paying attention to their thoughts, bodies and emotions. It incorporates meditation, yoga, deep relaxation, present-moment awareness and gentle movement to achieve those aims.

In April, the American College of Physicians recommended mindfulness-based stress reduction as a treatment for chronic low back pain. Doctors are increasingly recommending mindfulness and other treatments as alternatives to drugs for pain management because of the opioid epidemic.

The Professional Development in Mindfulness Facilitation “Diving Deep, Giving Back” course is the first established program in the Southeast that gives health care providers the proper knowledge and techniques for teaching colleagues how to incorporate mindfulness in their practices, Foote-Pearce said.

One of the instructors is David Vago, Ph.D., director of research for the Osher Center. While evidence-based studies have demonstrated that patients benefit from MBSR, the cause-and-effect action of mindfulness and medication is still being mapped out in the brain. That’s a focus of Vago’s research, using neuroimaging.

“We need to find the neurobiological markers for changes associated with meditation practice,” Vago said. “We want to know what’s happening when you start doing this practice without any experience at all compared to those who have thousands upon thousands of hours of formal sitting practice under their belt.”

Other instructors are Linda Manning, Ph.D, assistant professor of Clinical Psychiatry and course director, and Paloma Cain, M.A., a mindfulness teacher with Insight LA.

The course is being offered on Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 25, Sept. 15, Oct. 6, Oct. 27, Nov. 17 and Dec. 8.

Space is limited to 25 participants. For details, call 615-343-1170 or email diane.sussman@vanderbilt.edu to apply. Applications will be accepted until Aug. 1. The fee for the course is $1,200.

Media Inquiries:
Tom Wilemon, (615) 322-4747
tom.wilemon@vanderbilt.edu