Getting serious about mindfulness.

I’ve never really been an ‘accept everything, jump on the bandwagon’ kind of person. I like evidence and the evidence needs to be of high validity and reliability. I exist in the in-between world of psychology and education (two worlds that, I believe, are about to collide with dramatic and wide-ranging consequences). I have dabbled with the ‘dark side’ – a brief dalliance with humanistic psychology and (dare I say) the transpersonal – I’ve read more Maslow than you could shake a stick at and even have a copy of Ken Wilber’s ‘A brief history of everything’ sitting on my book shelf.

Thankfully, I always return to the safety of empirical evidence. Cognitive psychology makes me feel safe and warm inside – laboratory studies with independent and dependent variables and a whole host of statistical analysis I don’t quite understand.


This is silly – and a potential health and safety issue.

So what is it with all this mindfulness stuff? Surely this a horrible backwards move towards fuzzy psychology! This is Brain Gym; this is VAK!

Oh, hang on – there is evidence, and the evidence is compelling (and has some complicated statistics).

The Oxford Mindfulness Centre was established in 2008 within Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry and has been busy providing evidence in support of mindfulness for depression:

OMC Director Professor Mark Williams and his team in Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry are responding to the pressing need for new ways to prevent depression. They are world leaders in the field of research into the prevention of depression through mindfulness.
Williams, together with colleagues John Teasdale (Cambridge) and Zindel Segal (Toronto) developed an eight week program of mindfulness training to prevent serious recurrent depression. It is called Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). They showed that MBCT could significantly reduce the rate of recurrence in serious recurrent depression.


The results of further trials are equally striking. They show that in patients with three or more previous episodes of depression, MBCT reduces the recurrence rate over 12 months by 44% compared with usual care, and is as effective as maintenance antidepressants in preventing new episodes of depression. The UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recommended MBCT as a cost-effective treatment for preventing relapse in depression.


But what about Mindfulness in schools?

The media have been getting quite excited about the whole idea:
Why does the Government want to teach mindfulness in schools? (The Telegraph)
Could beditation be the answer to exam nerves? (The Guardian)
How two minutes of mindfulness can calm a class and boost attainment (The Guardian)

In addition, studies have found positive benefits of mindfulness with working class children who displayed better coping strategies and less anxiety after 12 sessions of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) (Sibinga et al., 2013); a decrease in hyperactive behaviour amongst children diagnosed with ADHD (Carboni, Roach, & Fredrick, 2013) and lower levels of stress in teenagers (Metz et al., 2013)

So maybe (just maybe) there’s something in this.

Unfortunately, while individual studies are showing positive results, the implementation of mindfulness programs in schools is a little more complicated. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis (Zenner, 2014) highlighted some of the problems with assessing school-based interventions. This includes problems with heterogeneity, underpowered studies and measuring effects. However, the authors did admit that many of the problems occurred due to this being an emerging field.

Despite some problems with implementation and measurement, The Mindfulness in Schools Project (in partnership with the Oxford, Cambridge and Exeter Universities) is attempting to provide a more homogenous framework by providing training programs for teachers.

The problem I think is how the public, teachers and parents will view the idea that pupils should partake is such behaviour. The comments on the The Telegraph piece above are (I expect) quite indicative of the general view of such initiatives and I doubt even the call from government ministers could alter their opinion.

However, teaching will never become an evidence based profession if, when the evidence is presented to us, we then ignore because it sounds a bit silly.

Carboni, J. a., Roach, A. T., & Fredrick, L. D. (2013). Impact of Mindfulness Training on the Behavior of Elementary Students With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder. Research in Human Development, 10(3), 234–251. doi:10.1080/15427609.2013.818487
Metz, S. M., Frank, J. L., Reibel, D., Cantrell, T., Sanders, R., & Broderick, P. C. (2013). The Effectiveness of the Learning to BREATHE Program on Adolescent Emotion Regulation. Research in Human Development, 10(3), 252–272. doi:10.1080/15427609.2013.818488
Sibinga, E. M. S., Perry-Parrish, C., Chung, S., Johnson, S. B., Smith, M., & Ellen, J. M. (2013). School-based mindfulness instruction for urban male youth: a small randomized controlled trial. Preventive Medicine, 57(6), 799–801. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2013.08.027
Zenner, C. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools-A systematic review and meta-analysis. Name: Frontiers in …. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00603



5 thoughts on “Getting serious about mindfulness.

  1. bt0558

    Great post. I have seen some mindfulness stuff about and it has to me always looked interesting and on the face of it quite sensible and logical.

    “Mindfulness” has however been dismissed by some of the weboshpere’s most emminent bloggers, and they assure us that they know what they are talking about.

    However, I am personally aware of the potential power of CBT of CBT, and I am curious to see how MCBT operates and can be used.

    Thanks for what will turn out to be my reading for the weekend.

  2. teachingbattleground

    Even if something has advantages, it doesn’t make it appropriate. Schools have a specific purpose – to educate – and are not meant to be a catch-all for providing everything that some policy-maker thinks might be of benefit to young people. It’s not enough for meditation to be good for people in some way, a case needs to be made for why schools, or why any state institutions, should be charged with spreading those benefits.

    1. Marc Smith Post author

      Thanks Andrew. This has always been a bit of a dilemma for me. I’m the first one to admit that our job is to educate, yet on the other hand I feel it’s also necessary to ensure an environment that allows young people to achieve and thrive. I have seen so many kids almost paralysed with anxiety and pretty much discarded by the medical profession who simply dish out antidepressants and beta-blockers without a great deal of thought. We are not doctors or psychologists or social workers and we’re certainly not their parents. Nevertheless, if we can help in even a small way then why shouldn’t we? – nobody is better placed to do so and if ten minutes of quiet reflection once day is all that is needed then I would be willing to give it a go.

    2. Chris Parsons

      I know that this is an old post, but for what it’s worth… I think a good case can be made for trying to implement some kind of mindfulness routines in schools for the development of executive function capabilities (aside from the well-being benefits). There has been some promising evidence related to pre-frontal cortex development following really quite short term meditation programs, which has led to subsequent performance changes in areas of intellectual functioning (essentially concentration skills). I think this certainly has relevance for schools, although implementation is, of course, the key. A person has to properly enter into the exercises, not just close their eyes and be quiet…

  3. ijstock

    A classic problem of its kind. I started using a mindfulness program to overcome the psychological side-effects of a long-lasting infection about fifteen months ago. I was highly sceptical but was quickly convinced of its effects when trying it. I have continued to use it as a stress-reliever and have found it helpful. I have even tried desisting for periods and found an apparent correlation with the return of stress symptoms.

    But this does not mean we shoud teach it to children. For a start, I suspect it has to be elective in order to work. Secondly, I agree with Andrew that we are not a panacea for every ill. But maybe there is somevalue in raising awareness of it without imposing it. I recommended the online provider I used to a couple of stressed sixth formers recently. One tried it – but lacked the perseverance needed to see results. Is this about as much as we can/should do?


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