When you hear the word “mindfulness,” or even about mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP), it might be difficult to understand what that truly means. “Being mindful” seems almost apologetic, but also a form of meditation—so are people humming to themselves I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry as they sit in a quiet room?
As is probably obvious, not quite.
Founding director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, defined mindfulness in his book, Full Catastrophe Living, as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”
Well, all right.
For people living with addiction, being told to pay attention and focus on the moment can seem like throwaway advice. After all, it’s hard to live in the present when addiction traps people into yearning for the past and being scared for the future. Still, perhaps something as radically “simple” as being mindful of one’s surroundings, choices, and thoughts can help recovering individuals begin to acknowledge their obstacles and learn how to face them.
What is mindfulness-based relapse prevention?
Mindfulness as a method to strengthen relapse prevention techniques was developed by a clinical research team at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington in 2010.
Designed for recovering individuals who “have suffered from the addictive trappings and tendencies of the mind,” the primary goals of mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) practices are:
– Increase awareness on triggers and destructive habitual patterns, and learn ways to create pause before observed “automatic” reactions.
– Change the relationship with discomfort, and learn to recognize and respond to challenging emotional and physical experiences in healthy ways.
– Approach self-reflection with a nonjudgmental, compassionate outlook.
– Incorporate mindfulness as an active part of recovery lifestyle.
The MBRP program was based on techniques used in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression and stress reduction and targets two main triggers of addictive behavior: negative emotions and cravings.
And while some people may want to consider mindfulness as the latest trend in holistic medicine, it’s not. An updated study by the same clinical research team that founded MBRP was published in the JAMA Psychiatry in 2014 that observed lower relapse rates among recovering individuals who participated in MBRP programs than traditional 12-step programs. And for the people who did relapse, they reported significantly fewer days of substance use at their six-month and one-year follow-ups.
How is MBRP used for aftercare treatment in recovery?
“It’s not about becoming a Buddhist,” said Dr. Sarah Bowen, one of MBRP’s creators, in an interview with the Huffington Post, “it’s about learning these ways of training our mind and changing processes that are problematic.”
In regards to addiction, MBRP aims to shift an individual’s relationship with discomfort. By focusing on reactive, impulsive behaviors triggered by cravings, MBRP can help recovering individuals begin to understand what is going on inside of their minds.
There is a correlation between emotional discomfort and the need to alleviate it via substance abuse, which can be addressed by the individual. MBRP teaches people how to “become experts on themselves,” by seeing the reasons they turn to substance use and observing how to intervene their addictive behaviors.
“There’s a tremendous amount of trust and respect in this program,” said Bowen to HuffPost. “I think where it’s really different is that we’re looking at the human condition and what it means to be human, much more than simply asking, ‘How are you going to not use drugs again?’ That’s where it’s a radical shift. We’re all sitting in the same circle, we’re all swimming around in the same human mess, and we’re all struggling with things—whether or not we’re addicts.”
What if MBRP doesn’t work or seems like a waste of time?
Recovering individuals strengthened their skills with processing moment-to-moment cravings and negative thoughts over time, but mindfulness-based relapse prevention is definitely not a practice that comes naturally to most.
Jennifer Talley, PhD, wrote an article in The Fix that illustrated the point of misinterpretations that can come before individuals engage in MBRP practices, stating:
“At the same time, however, you have a responsibility to be mindful of exactly how to present the practice to a client. What expectations and assumptions are we inadvertently expressing? What values and goals are we implicitly communicating? And how can we tailor this approach to meet the unique needs of each client? Such an inquiry differentiates the ‘mindfulness’ of pop culture from the mindfulness that deeply improves the quality of life.”
–“The Practice of Mindfulness in Addiction Therapy.” The Fix.
Whether it goes without saying, mindfulness is dependent on the strength of the mind, which involves how you interpret MBRP therapy will work for you. If you expect to fail, then you will fail—and most of the MBRP research founders would agree.
Two separate studies observed the relation with a person’s motivation to engage in MBRP therapy and their success rate. In both, people who could “treat thoughts and behaviors with non-judgment and acceptance” or who were motivated to quit their substance abuse before MBRP therapy began were much more likely to integrate mindfulness into their lifestyle, avoiding relapse in the long-term.
Even so, Dr. Sarah Bowen and other MBRP advocates will note that most people are not predisposed to mindfulness, and while some people may need extensive, vigorous training, everyone can learn MBRP techniques.
“So the approach is, ‘Hey, we’re all human, it’s really hard to be human, and we’re doing our best.’ Sometimes we don’t know how to make ourselves happy, but we’re all trying,” said Bowen in her HuffPost interview. “It’s coming from a very positive place—as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, ‘There’s much more right with you than wrong with you.’”
Practice some mindfulness techniques at California Highlands
Here at California Highlands, we strive to have our clients relax in a serene environment as they fulfill their treatment. Our luxurious facility will put anyone at ease, especially with our loving and patient staff to help clients along their journey. Whether you’re practicing mindfulness or reading an addiction memoir by the window, you’re welcome to start the path toward recovery at California Highlands. Call one of our treatment specialists, who are available 24-7 for all your questions, at 855-935-0303, and discover the freedom in living in the present.