When doctors start using mindfulness to improve their own quality of life, both doctors and patients benefit. Primary care physicians face high levels of professional and personal stress that can lead to burnout, in the form of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization of patients and a low sense of accomplishment.
According to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (2009; 302 , 1284–93), primary care doctors who participated in a mindful-communication educational program experienced improvement in personal well-being, burnout feelings, mood, empathy and attitudes toward patient-centered care. “The skills cultivated in [this] program appeared to lower participants’ reactivity to stressful events and help them adopt greater resilience in the face of adversity,” wrote study authors.
Researchers under the leadership of Michael S. Krasner, MD, of the University of Rochester Medical Center, in Rochester, New York, designed a continuing education course to improve physicians’ well-being. The course focused on three techniques: mindfulness meditation, narrative medicine and appreciative inquiry. According to Krasner, narrative medicine and appreciative inquiry focus attention and awareness through the process of telling, listening to and reflecting on personal stories.
Seventy doctors participated in the course, which comprised an 8-week intensive phase followed by a 10-month maintenance phase. Before and after the course, physicians completed surveys on mindfulness, burnout, empathy, psychosocial orientation, personality and mood.
Survey analysis showed that physicians experienced improvements in all areas. In a related comment, Tait Shanafelt, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, wrote, “Training physicians [in] the art of mindful practice has the potential to promote physician health through work ... Helping [physicians] recognize and enhance the meaning they derive from the practice of medicine may help protect against burnout and promote patient-centered care for the benefit of both physicians and their patients.”
Mindfulness training for families may help parents in midlife cope better with stress while raising teens, according to a pilot study that tested a new model for family- focused drug prevention programs for parents and youth aged 10–14. Researchers integrated mindfulness training into an existing evidence-based intervention, The Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10–14, to determine whether teaching mindfulness would increase parents’ well-being, enhance the effectiveness of their relationship with their children and improve program results.
Investigators enrolled five families in the study. Sessions consisted of 2-hour meetings, one night per week, for 7 consecutive weeks. During the first hour, parents met with two facilitators and kids met with two facilitators, in separate rooms. During the second hour, all family members participated together. Participants evaluated each session immediately after it; five parents took part in a postintervention focus group to further discuss their reactions.
Researchers found that parents benefited from giving more attention to their children and to observing their own reactions to what their children said and did before taking action. The findings were published in the Journal of Primary Prevention (2009; 30, 605–18). Study authors recommended more research on the benefits of mindfulness training to improve parenting and reduce stress.