Research on spirituality and meditative practices

Kristeller, Jean L., and Kevin D. Jordan. “Spirituality and Meditative Practice: Research Opportunities and Challenges.” Psychological Studies, 20 Mar 2017,  doi:10.1007/s12646-017-0391-0.

Abstract. Meditative practices have a long history in India and have influenced contemporary meditative programs elsewhere in the world. Over the last several decades, the use of meditation as a therapeutic tool has been investigated in regard to physical, emotional and behavioral effects with impressive results. In parallel to this has been a growing interest in research on spirituality, spiritual growth, and therapeutic modalities that incorporate the spiritual dimension of the person.

Ironically, very little research has explored the interface between these two constructs, despite how closely linked they are traditionally. This paper addresses the range of ways in which spirituality and spiritual development might be fruitfully investigated in the context of meditative practice, bringing further understanding to both psychological constructs.

Furthermore, the widely recognized significance of both meditative and spiritual experiences suggests that cross-cultural research may be particularly valuable at identifying factors that engage the universal human capacity of spirituality, and the particular potential for meditative practice in doing so.

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MBIs tailored to individuals with cancer

Rouleau, C. R. , Garland, S. N., & Carlson, L. E. (2015). The impact of mindfulness-based interventions on symptom burden, positive psychological outcomes, and biomarkers in cancer patients. Cancer Management and Research, 7, 121-131. Full Text.

Abstract: Research on the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction and related mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in cancer care has proliferated over the past decade. MBIs have aimed to facilitate physical and emotional adjustment to life with cancer through the cultivation and practice of mindfulness (ie, purposeful, nonjudgmental, moment-to-moment awareness).

This descriptive review highlights three categories of outcomes that have been evaluated in MBI research with cancer patients – namely, symptom reduction, positive psychological growth, and biological outcomes. We also examine the clinical relevance of each targeted outcome, while describing recently published original studies to highlight novel applications of MBIs tailored to individuals with cancer.

Accumulating evidence suggests that participation in a MBI contributes to reductions in psychological distress, sleep disturbance, and fatigue, and promotes personal growth in areas such as quality of life and spirituality. MBIs may also influence markers of immune function, hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis regulation, and autonomic nervous system activity, though it remains unclear whether these biological changes translate to clinically important health benefits.

We conclude by discussing methodological limitations of the extant literature, and implications of matching MBIs to the needs and preferences of cancer patients. Overall, the growing popularity of MBIs in cancer care must be balanced against scientific evidence for their impact on specific clinical outcomes.

Effect of MBSR on spirituality and post-traumatic growth

Labelle, L. E., et al. (2014). Does self-report mindfulness mediate the effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on spirituality and posttraumatic growth in cancer patients?. The Journal of Positive Psychology, (ahead-of-print), 1-14.

From the Abstract. This longitudinal waitlist-controlled study evaluated the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on spirituality, posttraumatic growth (PTG), and mindfulness in cancer patients. The study also assessed whether increased mindfulness mediated the effects of MBSR on spirituality and PTG.

Patients were either registered for immediate participation in MBSR (n = 135), or were naturally waiting for the next program (n = 76). Participants completed questionnaires pre-, mid-, and post-MBSR, or waiting period.

MBSR participants demonstrated increased spirituality, PTG, and mindfulness, relative to controls. Change in all mindfulness facets mediated the effect of MBSR on spirituality and PTG. The development of mindfulness skills through MBSR may facilitate a sense of meaning, peacefulness, connectedness, and personal growth in cancer patients. This investigation contributes to an emerging focus on determining ‘how’ mindfulness-based interventions work.

Increases spirituality and empathy

Birnie, K., Speca, M., & Carlson, L. E. (2010). Exploring self‐compassion and empathy in the context of mindfulness‐based stress reduction (MBSR). Stress and Health, 26(5), 359-371. Full text.

Abstract: Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programmes have demonstrated beneficial outcomes in a variety of populations. Self-compassion and empathy have theoretical connections to mindfulness, the key element of the MBSR program; however, previous studies examining the programme’s impact on self-compassion or empathy have demonstrated mixed results. This study examined the impact of MBSR on self-compassion and empathy, as well as on mindfulness, symptoms of stress, mood disturbance and spirituality in a community sample.

Significant reductions in symptoms of stress and mood disturbance, as well as increases in mindfulness, spirituality and self-compassion were observed after programme participation. With regards to empathy, a significant increase was seen in perspective taking and a significant decrease in personal distress; no significant change was observed for empathic concern. Changes in self-compassion were predicted by changes in mindfulness. Self-compassion and aspects of empathy revealed strong associations with psychological functioning.