Mindfulness Course to Offer Stress Reduction Techniques

Two faculty members from the department of psychiatry are launching a series of classes geared to provide participants with tools to reduce physical and emotional stress and improve their quality of life.

Mary Ann Dutton, PhD, professor of psychiatry, and Paul Jones, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry, will lead the program, called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The classes will be available to the Georgetown and MedStar communities, including faculty, clinicians, researchers, staff, students and trainees, as well as to patients and members of the general public.

“It doesn’t really matter if you are a nurse, a patient or a surgeon—you don’t come in with your doctor hat or your patient hat on. It’s just about dealing with the human condition,” Dutton says.

The course is geared to be broadly applicable, and “people take from it what they need,” she adds.

Grounded in Evidence

Often described as behavioral medicine, MBSR is a standardized eight-week course offering evidence-based curriculum developed in the late 1970s by mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts. Melding traditions of meditation with secular instruction, MBSR seeks to teach skills that can enhance participants’ ability to manage stress, pain or illness.

The positive effects of MBSR have been borne out in multiple studies, according to Dutton.

“The literature on this topic is still emerging, but there are 200-plus studies out there now about MBSR and its effects,” she says. “Studies have shown that this program can improve well-being and change people’s relationship to their symptoms and to their pain. People struggle less and are able to function much better—even reducing their reliance on medications.”

Reducing Stress and Depression

Dutton has conducted one such study involving women who have been exposed to chronic interpersonal violence and who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Compared with a control group, Dutton says the study found the MBSR program to be effective in reducing the women’s symptoms and maintaining the improvement after three months.

“A reduction in anxiety and depression, and increase in [feelings of] well-being are outcomes that have been documented in many studies. There is also a whole range of studies that have shown positive cognitive outcomes using MBSR, including people’s ability to focus,” she says.

The class comprises eight sessions (daytime or evening) plus one full-day Saturday or Sunday retreat. The next series begins February 4 for the evening session and February 5 for the daytime session. Available slots have already filled up quickly for the winter session, but organizers say it is still possible to register for the waitlist.

Spring and fall sessions are planned, although dates are not yet finalized.

For more information on the program, visit http://medstargeorgetown.org/mbsr.

By Lauren Wolkoff
GUMC Communications

(Published January 20, 2014)