Application of Contemplative Practices in Treatment of Addiction

Application of Contemplative Practices in Treatment of Addiction


As an approach to treatment for addiction, Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) integrates cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness practices to reduce risk and severity of relapse to harmful, addictive cycles of behavior. Clients learn to observe seemingly “automatic” cognitive and behavioral patterns, strengthen the ability to experience triggering events without reactivity, and practice skillful and compassionate responses that ultimately serve their highest good. Training begins with observation practice and establishing awareness of body sensations as a foundation, and progresses to awareness of thought and emotion. Through “formal” and “informal” practice, clients then learn to recognize triggers and subsequent physical, cognitive, or emotional reactions, and increase their ability to stay present with previously aversive or triggering experiences. Particular focus is given to the nature of craving and its physical, cognitive, and affective constituents. Clients explore the often wholesome needs underlying craving, such as desire for relief or fulfillment. They learn, through observation, that this “false refuge” may bring temporary relief, but it ultimately causes further suffering. Final sessions focus on kindness and forgiveness practices, and bring attention to the broader perspective of clients’ lives by observing factors that support or hinder their practice and recovery. The balance between acceptance and action is explored. MBRP research has primarily involved adults, many of whom were court-mandated to treatment and also have financial, housing, legal, and medical challenges. Outcomes suggest MBRP, relative to standard treatments, may be helpful in shifting reactions to challenging emotional experiences (e.g., craving) and may decrease the likelihood and severity of relapse one year following treatment. Future directions of study include adaptation to adolescent and incarcerated populations, dissemination and implementation, and further exploration of the multiple processes underlying behavioral change.

  • Dialogue 27
    11 sessions
  • November 1, 2013
    Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India
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Sarah Bowen

Sarah Bowen, PhD, is an acting assistant pro- fessor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. Her research and clinical work have focused primarily on the integration of meditation practice and mind- fulness-based approaches for addictive behaviors into traditional Western cognitive therapy. The primary focus of her personal, clinical, and research practices has been the exploration of processes underlying behavior change, and the adaptation of treatments and practices in the e!ort to reach a wide and diverse patient and client population. In addition to authoring numerous journal articles and book chapters on these topics, she is the lead author of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention for Addictive Behaviors: A Clinician’s Guide. She has been practicing in the Theravada tradition for more than 10 years, and has facilitated mindfulness-based relapse prevention groups in private practice, veterans’ medical centers, county treatment agencies, and prisons. She offers professional trainings to researchers and clinicians in the United States and internationally, and has a particular interest in adapting and disseminating mindfulness-based treatment for dual-diagnosis and underserved populations.