Category Archives: Mediation

What is Meditation? The Science of How it Makes us Happier.

1Assignment 

1.  5 notes from the first movie.

2. Take 5 notes from the reading to prove that Meditation is making people happier.

3. Practice the Meditation (watch the So Hum Meditation below).  Explain how it makes you feel afterward in 1 paragraph or more.

________________

Begin Reading Here: 

A quiet explosion of new research indicating that meditation can physically change the brain in astonishing ways has started to push into mainstream.

Several studies suggest that these changes through meditation can make you happier, less stressed — even nicer to other people. It can help you control your eating habits and even reduce chronic pain, all the while without taking prescription medication.

Meditation is an intimate and intense exercise that can be done solo or in a group, and one study showed that 20 million Americans say they practice meditation. It has been used to help treat addictions, to clear psoriasis and even to treat men with impotence.

The U.S. Marines are testing meditation to see if it makes more focused, effective warriors. Corporate executives at Google, General Mills, Target and Aetna Insurance, as well as students in some of the nation’s classrooms have used meditation.

Various celebrities also are known meditators, including shock jock Howard Stern, actors Richard Gere, Goldie Hawn and Heather Graham, and Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer of the band Weezer.

In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

READ: Meditation 101: Tips for Beginners

Recently, the Dalai Lama granted permission for his monks, who are master mediators, to have their brains studied at the University of Wisconsin, one of the most high-tech brain labs in the world.

Richie Davidson, a PhD at the university, and his colleagues, led the study and said they were amazed by what they found in the monks’ brain activity read-outs. During meditation, electroencephalogram patterns increased and remains higher than the initial baseline taken from a non-meditative state.

But you don’t have to be a monk to benefit from meditation, which is now gaining acceptance in the field of medicine.

Physicians have increasingly started prescribing meditation instead of pills to benefit their patients. A Harvard Medical School report released in May found that more than 6 million Americans had been recommended meditation and other mind-body therapies by conventional health care providers.

Perhaps the most mind-bending potential benefit of meditation is that it will actually make practitioners nicer. Chuck Raison, a professor at Emory University, conducted a meditation study in which he hooked up microphones to participants who had been taught basic meditation and those who hadn’t. He then recorded them at random over a period of time. Raison found that these newly-trained mediators used less harsh language than people who had no meditation experience.

“They were more empathic with people,” Raison said. “They were spending more time with other people. They laugh more, you know, all those things. They didn’t use the word ‘I’ as much. They use the word ‘we’ more.”

However, even the Dalai Lama admitted that meditation is not the silver bullet cure-all for every ailment or emotion.

“Occasionally, [I] lose my temper,” he said. “If someone is never lose temper then perhaps that may come from outer space, real strange.”

The Dalai Lama also cautioned that meditation takes patience, so new mediators should not expect immediate results.

“The enlightenment not depend on rank,” he said, laughing. “It depends on practice.”

Some scientists believe that in a generation, Americans will see meditation as being as essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle as diet and exercise.

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Siddhartha & Why are We Here?

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Questions for you: 
  1.  Why are we here?
  2. What is our purpose?
  3. Why do people act the way they do?
  4. Have you traveled much?  If so, where?
  5. What is your purpose in life?
  6. What is the secret to happiness?
  7. What is Nirvana?
  8. What is Enlightenment?
Definitions: 

Nirvana:  

nir·va·na
nərˈvänə,nirˈvänə/
noun
noun: nirvana
  1. (in Buddhism) a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism.
    synonyms: paradise, heaven; More

    antonyms: hell
    • another term for moksha.
    • a state of perfect happiness; an ideal or idyllic place.
      plural noun: nirvanas
      “Hollywood’s dearest dream of small-town nirvana”
Origin
from Sanskrit nirvāṇa, from nirvā ‘be extinguished,’ from nis ‘out’ + vā- ‘to blow.’

Nirvana is a place of perfect peace and happiness, like heaven. In Hinduism and Buddhism, nirvana is the highest state that someone can attain, a state of enlightenment, meaning a person’s individual desires and suffering go away.

The origin of the word nirvana relates to religious enlightenment; it comes from the Sanskrit meaning “extinction, disappearance” of the individual to the universal. Achieving nirvana is to make earthly feelings like suffering and desire disappear. It’s often used casually to mean any place of happiness, like if you love chocolate, going to Hershey’s Park would be nirvana. On the other hand, if you’re a Buddhist monk, it may take you years of meditating to reach nirvana.

Enlightenment: 

Immanuel Kant

“An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”

(Was ist Äufklarung?)

(30 September, 1784)

Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. This immaturity is self-imposedwhen its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!” — that is the motto of enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a portion of mankind, after nature has long since discharged them from external direction (naturaliter maiorennes [those who come of age by virtue of nature]), nevertheless remains under lifelong tutelage, and why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so easy not to be of age. If I have a book that understands for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me, a physician who decides my diet, and so forth, I need not trouble myself. I need not think, if I can only pay — others will easily undertake the irksome work for me. That the step to competence is held to be very dangerous by the far greater portion of mankind (and by the entire fair sex) — quite apart from its being arduous is seen to by those guardians who have so kindly assumed superintendence over them. After the guardians have first made their domestic cattle dumb and have made sure that these placid creatures will not dare take a single step without the harness of the cart to which they are tethered, the guardians then show them the danger which threatens if they try to go alone. Actually, however, this danger is not so great, for by falling a few times they would finally learn to walk alone. But an example of this failure makes them timid and ordinarily frightens them away from all further trials.

Thus it is very difficult for any single individual to work himself out of the life under tutelage which has become almost his nature. He has come to be fond of his state, and he is for the present really incapable of making use of his reason, for no one has ever let him try it out. Statutes and formulas, those mechanical tools of the rational employment or rather misemployment of his natural gifts, are the fetters of an everlasting tutelage. Whoever throws them off makes only an uncertain leap over the narrowest ditch because he is not accustomed to that kind of free motion. Therefore, there are few who have succeeded by their own exercise of mind both in freeing themselves from incompetence and in achieving a steady pace.

But that the public should enlighten itself is more likely; indeed, if only freedom is granted, enlightenment is almost sure to follow. For there will always be some independent thinkers, even among the established guardians of the great masses, who, after throwing off the yoke of tutelage from their own shoulders, will disseminate the spirit of the rational appreciation of both their own worth and every man’s vocation for thinking for himself. But be it noted that the public, which has first been brought under this yoke by their guardians, forces the guardians themselves to remain bound when it is incited to do so by some of the guardians who are themselves capable of some enlightenment — so harmful is it to implant prejudices, for they later take vengeance on their cultivators or on their descendants. Thus the public can only slowly attain enlightenment. Perhaps a fall of personal despotism or of avaricious or tyrannical oppression may be accomplished by revolution, but never a true reform in ways of thinking. Farther, new prejudices will serve as well as old ones to harness the great unthinking masses.

Nothing is required for this enlightenment, however, except freedom, and indeed the most harmless among all the things to which this term can properly be applied. It is the freedom to makepublic use of one’s reason at every point. But I hear on all sides, “Do not argue!” The Officer says: “Do not argue but drill!” The tax collector: “Do not argue but pay!” The cleric: “Do not argue but believe!” Only one prince in the world [Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia] says, “Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, but obey!” Everywhere there is restriction on freedom. Which restriction is an obstacle to enlightenment, and which is not an obstacle but a promoter of it? I answer: The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men. The private use of reason, on the other hand, may often be very narrowly restricted without particularly hindering the progress of enlightenment. By the public use of one’s reason I understand the use which a person makes of it as a scholar before the reading public. Private use I call that which one may make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted to him. Many affairs which are conducted in the interest of the community require a certain mechanism through which some members of the community must passively conduct themselves with an artificial unanimity, so that the government may direct them to public ends, or at least prevent them from destroying those ends. Here argument is certainly not allowed — one must obey. But so far as a part of the mechanism regards himself at the same time as a member of the whole community or of a society of world citizens, and thus in the role of a scholar who addresses the public (in the proper sense of the word) through his writings, he certainly can argue without hurting the affairs for which he is in part responsible as a passive member. Thus it would be ruinous for an officer in service to debate about the suitability or utility of a command given to him by his superior; he must obey. But the right to make remarks on errors in the military service and to lay them before the public for judgment cannot equitably be refused him as a scholar. The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes imposed on him; indeed, an impudent complaint at those levied on him can be punished as a scandal (as it could occasion general refractoriness). But the same person nevertheless does not act contrary to his duty as a citizen, when, as a scholar, he publicly expresses his thoughts on the inappropriateness or even the injustices of these levies, Similarly a clergyman is obligated to make his sermon to his pupils in catechism and his congregation conform to the symbol of the church which he serves, for he has been accepted on this condition. But as a scholar he has complete freedom, even the calling, to communicate to the public all his carefully tested and well meaning thoughts on that which is erroneous in the symbol and to make suggestions for the better organization of the religious body and church. In doing this there is nothing that could be laid as a burden on his conscience. For what he teaches as a consequence of his office as a representative of the church, this he considers something about which he has not freedom to teach according to his own lights; it is something which he is appointed to propound at the dictation of and in the name of another. He will say, “Our church teaches this or that; those are the proofs which it adduces.” He thus extracts all practical uses for his congregation from statutes to which he himself would not subscribe with full conviction but to the enunciation of which he can very well pledge himself because it is not impossible that truth lies hidden in them, and, in any case, there is at least nothing in them contradictory to inner religion. For if he believed he had found such in them, he could not conscientiously discharge the duties of his office; he would have to give it up. The use, therefore, which an appointed teacher makes of his reason before his congregation is merely private, because this congregation is only a domestic one (even if it be a large gathering); with respect to it, as a priest, he is not free, nor can he be free, because he carries out the orders of another. But as a scholar, whose writings speak to his public, the world, the clergyman in the public use of his reason enjoys an unlimited freedom to use his own reason to speak in his own person. That the guardian of the people (in spiritual things) should themselves be incompetent is an absurdity which amounts to the eternalization of absurdities.

But would not a society of clergymen, perhaps a church conference or a venerable presbytery (as they call themselves among the Dutch), be justified in obligating itself by oath to a certain unchangeable symbol in order to enjoy an unceasing guardianship over each of its numbers and thereby over the people as a whole, and even to make it eternal? I answer that this is altogether impossible. Such contract, made to shut off all further enlightenment from the human race, is absolutely null and void even if confirmed by the supreme power, by parliaments, and by the most ceremonious of peace treaties. An age cannot bind itself and ordain to put the succeeding one into such a condition that it cannot extend its (at best very occasional) knowledge, purify itself of errors, and progress in general enlightenment. That would be a crime against human nature, the proper destination of which lies precisely in this progress and the descendants would be fully justified in rejecting those decrees as having been made in an unwarranted and malicious manner. The touchstone of everything that can be concluded as a law for a people lies in the question whether the people could have imposed such a law on itself. Now such religious compact might be possible for a short and definitely limited time, as it were, in expectation of a better. One might let every citizen, and especially the clergyman, in the role of scholar, make his comments freely and publicly, i.e. through writing, on the erroneous aspects of the present institution. The newly introduced order might last until insight into the nature of these things had become so general and widely approved that through uniting their voices (even if not unanimously) they could bring a proposal to the throne to take those congregations under protection which had united into a changed religious organization according to their better ideas, without, however hindering others who wish to remain in the order. But to unite in a permanent religious institution which is not to be subject to doubt before the public even in the lifetime of one man, and thereby to make a period of time fruitless in the progress of mankind toward improvement, thus working to the disadvantage of posterity — that is absolutely forbidden. For himself (and only for a short time) a man may postpone enlightenment in what he ought to know, but to renounce it for posterity is to injure and trample on the rights of mankind. And what a people may not decree for itself can even less be decreed for them by a monarch, for his lawgiving authority rests on his uniting the general public will in his own. If he only sees to it that all true or alleged improvement stands together with civil order, he can leave it to his subjects to do what they find necessary for their spiritual welfare. This is not his concern, though it is incumbent on him to prevent one of them from violently hindering another in determining and promoting this welfare to the best of his ability. To meddle in these matters lowers his own majesty, since by the writings in which his own subjects seek to present their views he may evaluate his own governance. He can do this when, with deepest understanding, he lays upon himself the reproach, Caesar non est supra grammaticos  [Ceasar is not above the grammarians]. Far more does he injure his own majesty when he degrades his supreme power by supporting the ecclesiastical despotism of some tyrants in his state over his other subjects.

If we are asked, “Do we now live in an enlightened age?” the answer is, “No ,” but we do live in an age of enlightenment. As things now stand, much is lacking which prevents men from being, or easily becoming, capable of correctly using their own reason in religious matters with assurance and free from outside direction. But on the other hand, we have clear indications that the field has now been opened wherein men may freely deal with these things and that the obstacles to general enlightenment or the release from self-imposed tutelage are gradually being reduced. In this respect, this is the age of enlightenment, or the century of Frederick [the Great].

A prince who does not find it unworthy of himself to say that he holds it to be his duty to prescribe nothing to men in religious matters but to give them complete freedom while renouncing the haughty name of tolerance, is himself enlightened and deserves to be esteemed by the grateful world and posterity as the first, at least from the side of government, who divested the human race of its tutelage and left each man free to make use of his reason in matters of conscience. Under him venerable ecclesiastics are allowed, in the role of scholar, and without infringing on their official duties, freely to submit for public testing their judgments and views which here and there diverge from the established symbol. And an even greater freedom is enjoyed by those who are restricted by no official duties. This spirit of freedom spreads beyond this land, even to those in which it must struggle with external obstacles erected by a government which misunderstands its own interest. For an example gives evidence to such a government that in freedom there is not the least cause for concern about public peace and the stability of the community. Men work themselves gradually out of barbarity if only intentional artifices are not made to hold them in it.

I have placed the main point of enlightenment — the escape of men from their self-imposed immaturity — chiefly in matters of religion because our rulers have no interest in playing guardian with respect to the arts and sciences and also because religious incompetence is not only the most harmful but also the most degrading of all. But the manner of thinking of the head of a state who favors religious enlightenment goes further, and he sees that there is no danger to his lawgiving in allowing his subjects to make public use of their reason and to publish their thoughts on a better formulation of his legislation and even their open-minded criticisms of the laws already made. Of this we have a shining example wherein no monarch is superior to him we honor.

But only one who is himself enlightened, is not afraid of shadows, and has a numerous and well-disciplined army to assure public peace, can say: “Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, only obey!” A republic could not dare say such a thing. Here is shown a strange and unexpected trend in human affairs in which almost everything, looked at in the large, is paradoxical. A greater degree of civil freedom appears advantageous to the freedom of mind of the people, and yet it places inescapable limitations upon it. A lower degree of civil freedom, on the contrary, provides the mind with room for each man to extend himself to his full capacity. As nature has uncovered from under this hard shell the seed for which she most tenderly cares — the propensity and vocation to free thinking — this gradually works back upon the character of the people, who thereby gradually become capable of acting freely; finally, it affects the principles of government, which finds it to its advantage to treat men, who are now more than machines, in accordance with their dignity.

Give a Speech:  The Power of Meditation

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Assignment:  prepare a short speech for the class by answering the following questions:

1.  Write down one note from the reading “What is Meditation, The Science of How if Makes You Happier.” __________________________________

2.  Write down a second note from the reading “What is Meditation, The Science of How if Makes You Happier.” ___________________________________

Now, write each sentence starter and finish each sentence. 

3.   Meditation for me, is like …

4.  I like meditation because …

5.  I have found that meditation helps me during _____________ time of day (or night) because …

6.  I would recommend mediation to a friend because …

 

Meditation for Happiness, Stress, Anxiety, Addiction, and Depression

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The Dalai Lama’s Advice

By 
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Have your job, your mortgage — your life — pushed you into depression? The Dalai Lama can help.

The ancient practices of Tibetan Buddhism — meditation, mindfulness, empathy, and compassion — are offering world-weary Americans a better perspective on life and its hardships.

By feeling compassion for others — seeing even our enemies in a new light — we can ease our own stress and anxiety, the Dalai Lama told a crowd of thousands, gathered for his visit to Atlanta in October 2007. Through “inner disarmament” — reducing anger, hatred, and jealousy — we create a path to our own happiness and world peace, he said.

The Dalai Lama has long shown the world that, even in adversity, inner peace is possible. In his many books, he has taught us The Power of CompassionThe Power of Patience, and The Art of Happiness. As the spiritual leader of Tibet, he has toured the world, inspiring multitudes to embrace this philosophy of compassion.

He has also inspired leading scientists at Emory University and elsewhere to study traditional Tibetan Buddhist practices and ethics, researching them as a treatment for depression.

Much of our inner turmoil is due to negative feelings like fear and anger, the Dalai Lama said during his Atlanta visit. “Those emotions that disturb our peaceful mind must be eliminated. In times of great distress, our best friend is inside the heart … it is our compassion.”

A compassionate attitude sustains one’s good health, whereas feelings of anger, hate, and fear can hurt the immune system, he said. Trust develops between people when there is evidence of genuine concern and warm-heartedness. Good creates more good — even if it comes slowly.

Cultivating Compassion as Depression Therapy

In developing compassion and inner peace, daily meditation is key, explains Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negri, PhD, a senior lecturer and director of the Emory-Tibetan Partnership.

During meditation, one becomes mindful of one’s thoughts and feelings, he tells WebMD. “Meditation is a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts. Then, we work to change those negative feelings — to view other people and their actions differently.”

It is a human tendency to react to certain thoughts and feelings in a preconditioned way, says Geshe Lobsang. “We all have aversions and cravings, likes and dislikes. If a thought of a person comes up, we tend to immediately react based on whether we like or dislike them. That sets up a chain reaction about what’s wrong with that person.”

That cycle of preconditioned reactions is what we seek to change. “When people cause us difficulty, we can learn to see that they have difficulties in their own lives — and that they act from ignorance or weakness,” he says. “It’s not about condoning injustice. What’s wrong is wrong. But we can see them as our spiritual teachers, teaching us lessons like patience.”

We can also look for “unintentional kindness” from people who help us survive — providing the food we eat, the clothes we wear, etc., he explains. “We need to see beyond the superficial relationships to connect at a deeper level, where we all share the same aspirations.” The world begins to feel less harsh, more nurturing.

“The challenge is to develop a deep sense of empathy for all people we interact with — whether they are friends, people who give us difficulty, or people who are neutral to us,” says Geshe Lobsang. “It’s all about recognizing that they, too, have misfortunes and difficulties in their daily lives — and that all beings want to be free of these difficulties, for their own happiness.”

Through these practices, we can develop a real sense of connectedness with other beings, which is the source of empathy, compassion — and, ultimately, our happiness. “That’s how Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama can feel compassion for their enemies,” he says.

You’ll notice the spillover effect into your daily life, Geshe Lobsang adds. “When certain thoughts arise that might disturb you, you are able to notice them so you don’t get stuck with them. You move on with the job at hand.”

Meditation in Depression Therapy

Regularly meditating on compassion can also help preventdepression by reducing a person’s emotional and physical reaction to stress in his or her daily life, says Charles L. Raison, MD, a psychiatry professor and co-director of Emory’s Collaborative for Contemplative Studies.

“We look at compassion meditation as a protective strategy, sort of like exercise,” he tells WebMD.

Over the past three decades, research has shown that meditation produces a relaxation response that helps decrease metabolism, lowers blood pressure, and improves heart rate, breathing, and brain waves. As the body receives a quiet message to relax, tension and tightness seep from muscles.

Inner peace is a gift — nurtured through meditation, empathy, and compassion.

Meditation has gained millions of converts, helping them ease anxiety, stress, and chronic pain, improve heart health, boost mood and immunity, and resolve pregnancy problems.

By learning the Tibetan practice of “mindfulness meditation,” it is possible to break the cycle of negative thinking that feeds depression, says John D. Dunne, PhD, co-director of Emory’s Contemplative Practices and Studies programs.

“Negative thoughts are very real to depressed people,” says Dunne. “They interpret their own actions in a very negative way … have a very negative sense of self. They hold onto these thoughts very, very strongly.”

Because a depressed person is so self-focused, it’s difficult to convince them that their negative thoughts are not reality, he adds. “The goal of mindfulness meditation and compassion is to end this self-focus, this negative tone.”

Learning to Be Compassionate

A secularized version of the practice called compassion training is a step-by-step method for developing compassion. It is being used in Emory’s research studies to examine the health benefits of meditation and compassion, says Geshe Lobsang.

At its essence, compassion requires that we develop a sense of connectedness to others, which will give us empathy for them, he explains. “If we are genuinely able to feel empathy for others, then compassion is the natural outcome.”

In compassion training, students focus on developing that sense of deep connection with all beings, he says. “We develop a way of seeing how others are kind to us, even if it’s unintentional kindness. Whether they intended to be kind to us or not, we can choose to perceive it as kindness.”

Compassion Training Transforms the Mind

Using MRI brain scans, scientists have begun tracking the effects of compassion training.

“We are finding that we can transform the brain by changing the mind,” says Richard J. Davidson, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and the Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The brain region related to compassion, the insula, “is quite special,” he explains. “It is the only brain area that monitors the body and provides the brain with information on what is going on in the body. It sends signals to the body that might change during emotional distress.”

Compassion training can generate a state in which loving and compassion envelops the whole brain, he says. When people meditate on compassion, the signals to the insula and other brain regions involved in empathy and understanding are changed. The change is more dramatic among advanced practitioners, compared with novice practitioners, he adds.

His studies have shown that with even a little compassion training, people can reap a physical benefit.

Volunteers who received compassion training online — and practiced it for 30 minutes a day for two weeks — showed significantly greater propensity to want to help people who were suffering. They also reported a higher level of well-being, confidence, and positive feelings. MRI brain scans of these volunteers showed greater activation in the insula, Davidson reports.

Raison has studied the effects of compassion training in Emory freshmen — examining the body’s stress response system, specifically inflammation that links stress with depression. These same inflammatory processes are risk factors for other diseases including heart diseasestrokediabetescancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

In one of his studies, freshmen who got six weeks of compassion training had less physiological stress response in a test — heart rates, blood pressure, stress hormone levels, and other stress-related markers — compared with students who participated in a discussion group instead.

Not only that, students in the “compassion group” who actually practiced the meditation — rather than just taking the training classes — fared the best in the stress test. They had the least stress reaction, he reports.

“They came in the door a little different than the other kids who didn’t practice it,” Raison says. “These types of meditations help people reduce their reaction to stress.”

Meditation: No Magic Depression Treatment

While meditation can help many who are depressed, it’s not a sure-fire cure, Raison tells WebMD. “In fact, many people with mood disordersfind they can’t do meditation when they’re depressed.” Their thoughts are too overwhelming. They are anxious, nervous, and can’t sit — and likely they need antidepressants, he says.

“For people who are seriously depressed — or whose depression involves too much internal focus and rumination — meditation can make their depression worse,” he tells WebMD. “Early on, they begin to realize things about themselves they are uncomfortable with.”

Meditation provides true insight into why we behave as we do, Raison says. “There can be a shocking realization when you start watching your thoughts. You see the junk that’s in there, and it can be very distressing. Every individual case is different. With depression, which can be so disabling and overwhelming, we need to use wisely all treatment modalities to give people the best outcomes.”

Practice Meditating:

A Few Things That Therapy May Do Better Than Medication, According To Science

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By: Alice G. Walton on Forbes.com

In the last couple of weeks, there have been some big announcements from the medical and mental health communities about the wisdom of using drugs over behavioral methods for various disorders. The meds vs. therapy debate has been an active one for a number of years. But these days, some experts and organizations are questioning, more and more, whether popping pills should really be our go-to treatment, based on the literature. And it seems that for some that have historically used meds as the first line of treatment, the evidence for behavioral methods has mounted to the point where recommendations have shifted in their favor. At least for some things.

“Considering behavioral interventions (therapy) prior to medication is a long-overdue recommendation,” says psychologist Shannon Kolakowski, and author of the book When Depression Hurts Your Relationship. “I am thrilled to see this progress, as it reflects what I see in my daily practice. People make tremendous strides with therapy alone. Having therapy be officially recommended as a first line of treatment reduces the stigma about therapy and adds validity to an already established, vetted treatment.”

And research is, as it should be, what’s driving the trend. Studies are making more rigorous comparisons between methods, and learning more about how to determine various measures, like the benefit vs. risk ratio and relapse rate, of each one.

“Over the past two decades, the field of psychology has become a more rigorously tested science, with treatment outcomes measured and reproduced, and therapy guidelines have followed,” says Kolakowski. “This has led to effective, evidence-based treatment people receive in therapy sessions. The changing recommendations are a reflection of how effective therapy is for a host of behavioral and emotional problems.”

Here are a few things for which recent research has prompted changes in go-to treatments.

Behavioral Interventions for ADHD/ADD in Kids

There’s been a big backlash in recent years regarding the advisability of prescribing stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall for children, especially very young ones. The numbers of kids with ADHD have risen markedly in recent years, with many questioning whether this is a true rise in incidence, or it’s a result of diagnosis-eager physicians or even shortcomings in our education system. In any case, the CDC has just released a new recommendation that behavior therapy, rather than medication, should be the first line of treatment for children with ADHD.

“Parents may feel overwhelmed with decisions about their child’s treatment for ADHD, but healthcare providers, therapists and families can all work together to help the child thrive,” said Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director, CDC. “Parents of young children with ADHD may need support, and behavior therapy is an important first step. It has been shown to be as effective as medicine, but without the risk of side effects. We are still learning about the potential unintended effects of long-term use of ADHD medicine on young children. Until we know more, the recommendation is to first refer parents of children under 6 years of age with ADHD for training in behavior therapy before prescribing medicine.”

Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia

As of this week, the American College of Physicians believes that for insomnia, cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) should be the first line of treatment, rather than meds, since it has better scientific evidence behind it. And meds can come with all sorts of negative side effects. As per the new recommendations, CBT-I should be used first as a matter of course.

“Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is an effective treatment and can be initiated in a primary care setting,” said ACP President Wayne J. Riley. “Although we have insufficient evidence to directly compare CBT-I and drug treatment, CBT-I is likely to have fewer harms. Sleep medications can be associated with serious adverse effects.”

The experts add if that if the behavioral strategy alone doesn’t work, then the pros and cons of medication can be discussed. And if it’s deemed necessary by both patient and doctor, it can used for four to give weeks, while still doing CBT-I.

Therapy for Depression

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended that everyone aged 12-18 be screened for depression. The first line of treatment for depression is still somewhat up for grabs, but the effectiveness of antidepressants is being called into question more and more, while the research behind the value of behavioral interventions is growing. Last week, a study suggested that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) was as effective in preventing relapse in chronic depression as antidepressants. This is not the first to suggest a similar thing. There are of course certain cases in which medication is absolutely necessary. But in some cases, perhaps in many cases, behavioral strategies should be the first line of treatment instead of medication for certain mood or anxiety disorders. And doctors are beginning to realize that.

“I’ve noticed that many of my referrals come from physicians and pediatricians, who are now recognizing that therapy should be used for treatment of behavioral issues before they prescribe medication,” says Kolakowski. “This is further evidence of the trend we are seeing, and I see many people in my practice who would not have sought out therapy had not their doctor recommended it as a first line of treatment. The exception is with severe cases, sometimes medication and therapy in conjunction is best. But again, I think medication alone is a disservice.”

So far, the shift in attitude is promising. And insurance companies are slowly beginning to reflect the changing tides. “Mental health parity laws which ensure that therapy is covered by insurance companies just as any medical treatment is covered,” says Kolakowski, “are also in line with the change in recommendations. Parity laws recognize that mental health is a medical condition that affects people as a disease, and should be covered and treated as such.”

Time will tell whether more experts and guidelines recommend behavioral methods as a first treatment for other disorders. If you’re dealing with any kind of mental health issue, the most important thing is to talk with a professional, and understand all the pros and cons of each treatment, before making the best decision for your, or your kids’, specific situation.

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