University of Vienna: Mindfulness as a key to success in psychotherapy

Mindfulness is the ability to focus your attention on the here and now and to meet the resulting impressions, thoughts and feelings with curiosity, openness and acceptance. A team of psychologists from the University of Vienna led by Ulrich Tran is now showing in a large overview study that increasing mindfulness not only explains the positive effect of meditation and similar treatments on mental health, but also of psychotherapeutic treatments in which meditation doesn’t matter at all. The study was published in the renowned journal Psychological Bulletin.

Meditation, yoga and relaxation exercises have become widespread in broad sections of the population in recent years. Meditative, mindfulness-based interventions have also been used successfully in the clinical treatment of psychological and physical complaints such as anxiety, depression and chronic pain for many years. “The aim of these treatments, in which meditation plays a greater or lesser role depending on the design, is generally to teach and increase mindfulness, which also leads to a reduction in complaints and symptoms and, more generally, to an improvement in mental health Health comes,” explains Ulrich Tran from the Faculty of Psychology and first author of the overview study, in which Layla Birnbaum, Matthias Burzler,

New statistical method developed and used for the first time

The overview study summarizes 146 randomized controlled trials with a total of almost 11,000 participants. These were randomly assigned to mindfulness-based treatment or a comparison group. In the comparison group, either another psychotherapeutic treatment or non-psychotherapeutic care was used, or a place on the waiting list was allocated. In all studies, the mindfulness and mental health of the participants were recorded before and after the treatment or at the beginning and end of the observation period.

For the analysis of their results, a novel statistical method was developed and applied for the first time in the current overview study, which made it possible to systematically compare all the different treatments and comparison groups in these studies.

“The increase in mindfulness seems to be one of the elements that explains the extent of the positive effect of meditative and similar treatments on mental health,” Ulrich Tran continues. In fact, however, the overview study showed that other psychotherapeutic treatments in which meditation and mindfulness play no role also lead to an increase in mindfulness, albeit to a lesser extent. The results also suggested that increasing mindfulness may not only explain the magnitude of the impact of mindfulness-based treatments on mental health, but equally so for other psychotherapeutic treatments.

“Mindfulness could thus be a general effective factor in psychotherapy,” Ulrich Tran continues. Successful psychotherapies that improve mental health might be characterized by also increasing mindfulness, whether they directly mediate and practice or not. This would be an important finding for psychotherapy research, since the exact mode of action of psychotherapy has still not been clarified.

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