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Jon Kabat-Zinn in Glasgow: has mindfulness got too "sexy"?

I'm off to Glasgow a little later this morning to what is billed as "Mindfulness, health and wellbeing" An international conference with Jon Kabat-Zinn, co-hosted by Mindfulness Scotland and University of Glasgow.  The programme looks very interesting - Harry Burns, chief medical officer for Scotland, is scheduled to kick off with a talk entitled "What does mindfulness have to offer Scotland?".  This is followed for three hours by Jon Kabat-Zinn presenting on "Mindfulness: theory, practice, teaching and research".  We then get a lunch break and some poster presentations.  There is then a section called "What's happening in mindfulness in Scotland?" with a presentation by psychiatrist Alistair Wilson & professor of general practice Stewart Mercer on "Mindfulness Scotland: vision and strategy" and another by Neil Rothwell from NHS Education Scotland on "Training in mindfulness for NHS staff and availability for patients".  After questions & discussion, there is a talk by Maura Kenny, coordinator of the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy programs at the Centre for the Treatment of Anxiety & Depression (CTAD), South Australian Health and convenor of the discipline of psychiatry's mindfulness research group at the University of Adelaide.  Maura has published good work both on mindfulness treatment for persistent chronic depression and also on longer term effects of mindfulness training in reducing depressive relapse.  She is due to speak on "Translating MBCT into Australian public mental health context: clinical applications, research outcomes and training and supervision issues".  Then after tea and more posters, we're due to have Jon Kabat-Zinn speaking for another hour & a half before final "Closing remarks".

It looks a good day.  No surprise that I'm making the time to go across to Glasgow to be there.  So why am I a little cautious?  Why have I entitled this blog post "Has mindfulness got too 'sexy'?"  I'm reminded of a remark a very senior academic colleague made about a big "Third wave" conference on new cognitive-behavioural approaches like MBCT, ACT & DBT.  He commented that the conference, in many ways, felt more like a religious revival meeting than an academic discussion.  And I do think there is this danger.  As they said way back "It's important to keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out".  I'm told that Jon Kabat-Zinn has said that it's crucial that mindfulness training doesn't lose its roots in the dharma - a traditional Buddhist teaching.  And this seems a possibly reasonable remark, and then I wonder how I'd react if a Christian psychiatrist I know, told me that current research on self-compassion is fine but that it's crucial we realise that true forgiveness comes from Jesus.  I would be very uneasy.  Good science is open-minded.  Good science tries to see if it can prove itself wrong.  Religion doesn't do that.  Religion typically demands faith ... respect for pronouncements from authority figures.  This is tempting, dangerous territory.  We need to "follow the data".  Evidence-based practice treats the opinions of even the most respected professors as just that - "opinions".  Evidence is painstakingly accumulated through careful research.  To move the usefulness of mindfulness forward in the health service, I believe we need good scientists, not gurus or rock stars. 

Off to Glasgow ... and see the post "Jon Kabat-Zinn in Glasgow: honour, confusion, sadness, interest" on how I found the conference.

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