Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Raisin consciousness pits meditation against depressive spiral
Article from The Age, November 3rd 2008 by Nick Miller
HAVE you ever looked at a raisin … really looked at it? Rolled it around in your fingers for a minute or so, explored its sticky ridges, even crinkled it next to your ear?
It may sound far-fetched, but a technique learned through the close examination of dried fruit could lead to a breakthrough treatment to ward off serious depression.
A psychiatric research team from Monash University and Southern Health is testing a new method which modifies traditional cognitive behaviour therapy with meditation-like skills.
The use of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, or MBCT for short, in the fight against depression has had too little scientific examination before now, says team leader Graham Meadows.
"Some people call it 'raisin consciousness'," jokes Professor Meadows. The first lesson in the program uses the raisin as a way to learn meditation techniques that make you more aware of the physical world, and your own thoughts.
"In traditional cognitive therapy, you train to notice negative thoughts that might provoke depression, face those thoughts, debate them and try to change their content," Professor Meadows says.
"But MBCT is about holding your thoughts lightly, not changing the content of the (negative) thought but changing your personal relationship to the thought." The "fullness" of the meditation can also ward off encroaching depression, the theory goes.
One of the hardest parts of recurring depressive episodes is recognising dangerous thought patterns early, before they take hold and drag you into a spiral of negativity.
The "mindfulness" techniques were developed in Canada and Britain in the 1980s, and more recently were developed into clinical techniques that address depression.
The "DARE" (decision awareness recovery effectiveness) project aims to rigorously and scientifically test those techniques for the first time as a regular therapy, away from the possible biases of its inventors.
So far, the Monash trial has involved 140 people, randomised between MBCT and a control group, using an internet-based program to monitor their mental state. More participants are being sought.
One early participant, Kate, 30, has suffered from depressive episodes since she was 14.
"It's like I am removed from everyday life, watching myself from a distance," she said. "It can last days, or even months, and it can be very debilitating."
She said the technique had changed her life — as well as the way she looks at raisins. The course enabled Kate to pick up signs of depression earlier, "step in" and set her thoughts back on a rational track.
More information can be found at http://dare.org.au
I was away last weekend (taking advantage of the public holiday for celebrating the Melbourne Cup in Australia) and was overjoyed to see this article open up in front of me on Page 3 of my daily newspaper, The Age. How brilliant that we are seeing meditation (and mindfulness) in our daily lives, in the mainstream media, available to everyone.
A few months ago I did a Chocolate Meditation in class and the evening was a great success. Since that class I have had a couple of students recall that meditation, and comment that they often now remember to stop and be fully present to a mouthful or to a moment .. a meditation of being fully present .. the magic of mindfulness.