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meditation as ‘treatment’

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Ever since I began working in end-of life-care, both as a volunteer and paid spiritual care worker, I’ve been aware of the stress under which professional care-givers perform their work. The term “self-care” gets bandied about a fair amount, but ask any nurse, doctor, unit clerk, or social worker and you’ll find that the institutional focus of care is on patients, not on the providers of care. [The stress on patients’ families, especially when they care for their loved-ones at home, is a related issue which I’ll keep for another post.]

While working at a hospice I began to offer once-a-week meditation sessions on a drop in basis. People were supportive of the idea, but when it came to incorporating meditation into the schedule, staff were hard pressed to find the time and many would use their meal breaks to sit quietly for half an hour. For the last two years I’ve provided space in my home for people to come and meditate twice a week. Of the growing pool of about 25 participants, 80% work in health care.

In February I’ll be participating in MBSR training program with Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn with the intention of offering a well-researched systematic meditation approach to health-care providers as well as cancer patients. Reports in the scientific literature point to meditation as a low-tech, low-cost tool to help reduce stress, strengthen the immune system, and increase physical and emotional well-being. Here just two examples:

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association addressed the problem of doctors who feel burned out and dispirited. A before-and-after study of 70 primary care physicians found that taking an 8-session course involving mindfulness meditation (MBSR), followed by a 10-month maintenance phase, resulted in significant improvements in how the doctors felt and how well they cared for their patients. They reported feeling less emotional exhaustion, more confident and empathetic.

A study on women with early stage breast cancer reported in Brain Behavior and Immunology found that mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) improved coping ability, immune function and quality of life. A reduction in cortisol levels (a stress hormone) was also detected.

sources: I thank The Healthy Fellow — Your Natural Health Critic for an article on “Meditation and cancer.” Research reports are from PubMed Central (PMC), the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s digital archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature. image: http://mindfulness.ucsd.edu/mbsr.htm

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