The introduction of mindfulness practice to the young in schools reflects the increasing public interest in mindfulness (article in ST). This has also generated concerns about the safety of such practices (letter to ST).
The contemporary form of secular mindfulness practice started in the healthcare setting where mindfulness practices were introduced to US Hospitals in the late 1970s. Like any medical treatment, potential risks and benefits/ side effects need to be considered.
In order that these Mindfulness-Based-Interventions (MBIs) be acceptable to patients with existing physical and mental health problems, great care had to be taken. For example, screening criteria that exclude potential participants who would not benefit or might even be harmed by these MBIs, and MBI instructors rigorously trained to administer the MBIs in the intended way. Further, formal channels of communication were open between patients’ primary physicians and the MBI instructor –yet another safety net in case patients encountered problems. (Standards of practice in MBSR)
In the same way, only evidence-based programs that lay the foundation for safe conduct of mindfulness practice should be considered for schools. Second, working with teachers who know their student’s personality and background can help detect students who may potentially be at risk. Third, the mindfulness instructor (who may be the class teacher) should have undergone proper training to administer these MBIs, and to know the next steps to take if students encounter difficulties. These viewpoints were shared by other readers in followup letters to ST (Ms Dawn Sim, Ms Brindha Pillay)
Mindfulness training, like any intervention, can certainly have adverse effects. The key is to take steps to minimize their occurrence and mitigate these effects if and when they arise.
Guest Post by Wei Chieh
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