Just as the Buddha was unsatisfied with earlier established methods of his day, Drs. Jon Kabat-Zinn, John Teasdale, Marsha Linehan, and Steven Hayes have all described how deficiencies in dominant forms of medicine and therapy led them to develop their leading contemporary therapeutic approaches that seek to utilize mindfulness, which was first proposed in the Pali Canon.
Hearing a lecture by Zen Buddhist priest Philip Kapleau while he was still a graduate student in molecular biology led Jon Kabat-Zinn to develop a life-long personal interest in Buddhist meditation and yoga, and to eventually create MBSR (Simon & Wylie, 2004). After attending a two-week vipassanā (mindfulness) meditation retreat, he returned to the hospital where he was working and created a program for chronic pain patients based on his meditation practice that eventually evolved into MBSR (Simon & Wylie, 2004). Kabat-Zinn believed that mindfulness could improve the treatment of chronic pain even when established medical protocols had often proven insufficient. Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR is designed as an 8-week course that typically meets once a week in a psycho-educational format with the introduction and practice of different MBSR techniques that he originally adapted from his own personal practice and conception of Buddhism and yoga (Kabat-Zinn, 1990, 1994). MBSR was not initially designed or intended to be a psychological intervention in mental health settings, but Kabat-Zinn’s approach came to strongly influence many leading therapeutic approaches that seek to integrate mindfulness into their therapy work (e.g., MBCT, DBT, ACT).
The founders of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Drs. Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale, initially had varying levels of personal interest in Buddhism before creating MBCT (Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002). Professionally, they were moved to explore mindfulness for the treatment of depression because they were concerned about high rates of relapse for people who had used traditional treatments for depression. Of the three founders of MBCT, John Teasdale was initially the most personally interested in Buddhism, and he credits his personal interest in Buddhism as an inspiration for his clinical and research work (Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002).
Segal, Williams, and Teasdale all share that they initially believed their training as psychologists would be sufficient for them to train others in the practice of mindfulness (Segal et al., 2002). They relate, however, that when they initially tried to teach mindfulness without having their own mindfulness practice their seminars were extremely unsuccessful, and they subsequently implemented Kabat-Zinn’s admonition that to teach mindfulness they must first have a strong mindfulness practice (Segal et al., 2002). Teasdale, Segal, and Williams (1995) defined their mindfulness approach as a new, innovative form of cognitive therapy serving to inoculate against the relapse of depression, and contrast their methodology against traditional cognitive therapy: “In the case of cognitive therapy, these alternative “views” probably involve more of an active “coping and controlling” stance than the views implicitly created in mindfulness practice (p. 38).”
Since its origins, Buddhism has been appreciated by some leading psychologists as a way to advance the discipline of psychology. In the early 1900s when the Buddhist monk Anagarika Dharmapala made his third visit to the United States and attended a lecture at Harvard delivered by William James, the seminal scientist urged Dharmapala to speak on Buddhism declaring, “You are better equipped to lecture on psychology than I” (Fields, 1992, p. 135). After Dharmapala spoke to Dr. James’ class, James declared to his students, “This is the psychology everybody will be studying twenty-five years from now” (p. 135). The work of Drs. Jon Kabat-Zinn, John Teasdale, Marsha Linehan, and Steven Hayes are perhaps examples of how James’ prediction that Buddhism would become the future of psychology may now be coming true.
Fields, R. (1992). How the swans came to the lake: A narrative history of Buddhism in America. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.
Gotama, S. (1995). Mahāsatipatthāna Sutta: The greater discourse on the foundations of mindfulness. In M. Walshe (Trans.), The long discourses of the Buddha: A translation of the Dīgha Nikāya (pp. 335-350). Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York, NY: Delta.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are. New York, NY: Hyperion.
Segal, Z., Williams, J. M., & Teasdale, J. (2002). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: A new approach to preventing relapse. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Simon, R., & Wylie, M. S. (2004, November/December). The power of paying attention: What Jon Kabat Zinn has against “spirituality”. [Electronic Version]. Psychotherapy Networker. Retrieved August 1, 2013, from http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/populartopics/leaders-in-the-field/521-the-power-of-paying-attention
Teasdale, J., Segal, Z., & Williams, J. M. (1995). How does cognitive therapy prevent depressive relapse and why should attentional control (mindfulness) training help? Behaviour Research and Therapy, 33, 25-39.