Does mindfulness @work really work?

I dedicate this post to dr. Jim Coyne, notorious skeptic of mindfulness.

Generally speaking, two distinct applications can already be found in workplaces:

·      The first application attempts to make money by applying mindfulness in executive coaching. The goal is to increase focus and performance that may in turn result in higher profit. This is an approach championed by Google, for example (Schaufenbuel, 2015).

·      The second approach is aimed at other employees. Most programs are officially aimed at reducing stress in employees by making them more resilient.

In his book McMindfulness. How mindfulness became the new capitalist spirituality, Ronald Purser recently argued that mindfulness is only a way to treat symptoms of neoliberalism, while still recognizing that mindfulness has some benefits. I doubt this because mindfulness @ work has not been studied very well yet. There is a lack of gold standard research (e.g. RCT’s) and replications. In my book, after carefully reviewing the evidence, I consider Mindfulness a Near Myth. Here are some important ‘sound bites’ of my book:

  • “The ambiguity surrounding both the definition, the practices, and the measures makes it almost impossible to study the topic in a systematic way.”

  • There are many methodological problems in the majority of mindfulness studies: for example, “over 90% of the studies included in the meta-analysis by Sedlmeier et al. (2012) had no active control group (i.e. treated with an established therapy such as CBT).”

  • “Studies on the long-term beneficial (or adverse) effects of practicing mindfulness have not yet been sufficiently conducted. Those that have been carried out found no long-term effects.”

  • “evidence that there is a heavy publication bias”

  • “only 25% of meditation trials actively assess adverse effects, despite CONSORT requirements. Compare this to pharmacology trials, where 100% are compliant with the CONSORT requirements (overview in Van Dam et al., 2018).”

  • “Thus, it is not evidence-based care to offer MBIs as a first-hand treatment for CMDs as there are other treatments that are considered well-established treatments that should be offered” (Hedman-Lagerlöf et al, 2018, p. 12, bold emphasis my own). “

  • “There is no good evidence at all that mindfulness can be beneficial to healthy, well-functioning individuals in an organizational context.”

  • …'“structural brain changes following mindfulness practice are confined to the first weeks of practice.”

  • “A concrete issue for mindfulness training programs in organizational settings is that sometimes unvalidated programs are used, or that more ‘scientifically’ developed programs like Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR are shortened or adapted without explaining why the adaptation was made, or without validation studies to determine whether these adapted versions have an effect beyond participant ‘satisfaction.’ “

  • “It’s a very risky business of organizations to put mental health in the hands of people who lack adequate education, training, and experience. “

And my conclusion:

“I will close with the words of Farias and Wikholm: “The enthusiasm is ahead of the evidence” (2016, p. 330). Are organizations really only interested in reducing stress? Would they invest so much money if the methods are so flawed and the evidence so weak? I strongly recommend not mindlessly wasting money on mindfulness programs. I hope we won’t have to wait another 50 years before we can reach a final verdict, but that won’t stop mindfulness from remaining a hype for many years, because people are easily motivated to believe in mindfulness, Platonic Idealists in particular.”

Original sources consulted (regarding this excerpt)

Farias, M., Wikholm, C., & Delmonte, R. (2016). What is mindfulness-based therapy good for? Evidence, Limitations and Controversies. The Lancet Psychiatry, (11): 1012–1013.

Hedman-Lagerlöf, M., Hedman-Lagerlöf, E., & Öst, L. G. (2018). The empirical support for mindfulness-based interventions for common psychiatric disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological medicine, 1–14.

Sedlmeier, P., Eberth, J., Schwarz, M., Zimmermann, D., Haarig, F., Jaeger, S., & Kunze, S. (2012). The psychological effects of meditation: A meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin138(6), 1139–1171.

Van Dam, N. T., van Vugt, M. K., Vago, D. R., Schmalzl, L., Saron, C. D., Olendzki, A., ... & Fox, K. C. (2018). Mind the hype: A critical evaluation and prescriptive agenda for research on mindfulness and meditation. Perspectives on Psychological Science13(1), 36–61.