Mindfulness meditation as ‘medicalization’

Barker, K. (2014). Mindfulness meditation: Do-it-yourself medicalization of every moment. Social Science & Medicine. In Press.


• Demonstrates how mindfulness self-help materials contribute to medicalization.
• Reveals how self-help of this sort obscures social factors that undermine well-being.
• Addresses the relationship between medicalization, healthism and healthization.


This paper examines mindfulness as a popular and paradigmatic alternative healing practice within the context of contemporary medicalization trends. In recognition of the increasingly influential role popular media play in shaping ideas about illness and healing, what follows is a discursive analysis of bestselling mindfulness meditation self-help books and audio recordings by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

The central and contradictory elements of this do-it-yourself healing practice as presented in these materials are best understood as aligned with medicalization trends for three principal reasons. First, mindfulness represents a significant expansion in the definition of disease beyond that advanced by mainstream medicine. Second, its etiological model intensifies the need for therapeutic surveillance and intervention. Third, by defining healing as a never-ending process, it permanently locates individuals within a disease-therapy cycle.

In sum, the definition, cause, and treatment of disease as articulated by popular mindfulness resources expands the terrain of experiences and problems that are mediated by medical concepts. The case of mindfulness is a potent illustration of the changing character of medicalization itself.