An article in the New York Times health section today, entitled “Lotus Therapy,” describes the increasingly prevalent use of mindfulness techniques in psychotherapy over the past ten years. The article describes the state of research on the use of mindfulness meditation as “thin,” and indeed the evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness’ use for anxiety and depression is not as substantial as the evidence for cognitive-behavioral therapy or antidepressant medication.
However, the research that has been conducted to this point paints a picture of mindfulness meditation as a useful tool — for those inclined to use it — in fighting depression and anxiety.
A fair consideration of the strength of evidence for mindfulness meditation vs. psychotherapy and pharmacological treatments should keep in mind a few key points:
1) Few people make the claim that mindfulness meditation is an appropriate substitute for either cognitive-behavioral therapy or for medication. Typically it is described as an important complement to psychotherapy. Comparing its effectiveness to that of either of the other two treatment modalities sets up a false dichotomy.
2) The use of mindfulness in psychotherapy has become widespread only relatively recently, and thus has not had the benefit of decades of research studies to support its effectiveness. As mentioned in the Times article, there is an increasing effort being made to include mindfulness in NIH-funded research studies.