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BACKGROUND:Recently, the application of meditative practices to the treatment of depressive disorders has met with increasing clinical and scientific interest, owing to a lower side-effect burden, potential reduction of polypharmacy, and theoretical considerations that such interventions may target some of the cognitive roots of depression. OBJECTIVE: We aimed to determine the state of the evidence supporting this application. METHODS: Randomized controlled trials of techniques meeting the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality definition of meditation, for participants having clinically diagnosed depressive disorders, not currently in remission, were selected. Meditation therapies were separated into praxis (i.e., how they were applied) components, and trial outcomes were reviewed. RESULTS: 18 studies meeting the inclusion criteria were identified, encompassing 7 distinct techniques and 1173 patients. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy comprised the largest proportion of studies. Studies including patients having acute major depressive episodes (n = 10 studies), and those with residual subacute clinical symptoms despite initial treatment (n = 8), demonstrated moderate to large reductions in depression symptoms within the group, and relative to control groups. There was significant heterogeneity of techniques and trial designs. CONCLUSIONS: A substantial body of evidence indicates that meditation therapies may have salutary effects on patients having clinical depressive disorders during the acute and subacute phases of treatment. Owing to methodologic deficiencies and trial heterogeneity, large-scale, randomized controlled trials with well-described comparator interventions and measures of expectation are needed to clarify the role of meditation in the depression treatment armamentarium.
The science of meditation has grown tremendously in the last two decades. Most studies have focused on evaluating the clinical effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions, neural and other physiological correlates of meditation, and individual cognitive and emotional aspects of meditation. Far less research has been conducted on more challenging domains to measure, such as group and relational, transpersonal and mystical, and difficult aspects of meditation; anomalous or extraordinary phenomena related to meditation; and post-conventional stages of development associated with meditation. However, these components of meditation may be crucial to people’s psychological and spiritual development, could represent important mediators and/or mechanisms by which meditation confers benefits, and could themselves be important outcomes of meditation practices. In addition, since large numbers of novices are being introduced to meditation, it is helpful to investigate experiences they may encounter that are not well understood. Over the last four years, a task force of meditation researchers and teachers met regularly to develop recommendations for expanding the current meditation research field to include these important yet often neglected topics. These meetings led to a cross-sectional online survey to investigate the prevalence of a wide range of experiences in 1120 meditators. Results show that the majority of respondents report having had many of these anomalous and extraordinary experiences. While some of the topics are potentially controversial, they can be subjected to rigorous scientific investigation. These arenas represent largely uncharted scientific terrain and provide excellent opportunities for both new and experienced researchers. We provide suggestions for future directions, with accompanying online materials to encourage such research.