What If Meditation Isn’t for Everyone?

In Health & Wellness by Tree House Recovery

Various meditation practices, especially mindfulness meditation, have become extremely popular among recovery communities in recent decades. Quite a bit of evidence exists stating that meditation and mindfulness practices can play an important supporting role in treating mental health issues, including substance use disorders. Mindfulness can help people reduce stress, regulate challenging emotions, “surf” cravings, and behave more intentionally. However, it’s also important to remember that anything powerful enough to help you can also hurt you. Meditation is too often presented as a practice to solve all problems with no possible drawbacks. However, that might not always be the case. The following are some under appreciated caveats to meditation.


Meditation Is Not Therapy

The first caveat is that meditation is not therapy. Advocates often tout the mental health benefits of meditation and there has been quite a bit of highly publicized research supporting its therapeutic effects. This can give you the impression that if you suffer from major depression or an anxiety disorder, you can simply practice meditation at home or go to a meditation class and solve the problem on your own. Unfortunately, the chances of meditation alone eliminating your mental health issues are unlikely. Mindsets like these might actually make things worse, decreasing motivation to seek further therapeutic treatment, and creating feelings of shame when conditions don’t improve through meditation alone. Therapeutic benefits of meditation have been best demonstrated as one complimentary piece of an evidence-based methodology such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). 


It May Decrease Your Ambition

Meditation, especially mindfulness, has often been branded as a productivity tool to reduce stress, increase focus, and get more done. However, this application would never have occurred to the people who developed and refined meditation practices over the past 3000 years. Buddhist meditation, for example, is designed to decrease attachment to worldly things. People who go all-in on this kind of meditation may, in fact, experience a loss of ambition, as opposed to increased productivity. One study from Brown University asked experienced meditators about the challenges they’ve faced as a result of their meditation practices. Findings show that 42 percent of participants reported occupational impairment and 50 percent reported social impairment. Those may not be the kinds of changes you’re looking for when recovering from addiction.


In Some Cases, It May Worsen Mental Health Issues

Using meditation as a substitute for treatment can be detrimental to your mental health. For example, in the Brown University study mentioned above, 18 percent of participants reported anhedonia or avolition — loss of the ability to feel pleasure and loss of initiative, respectively. Both are common symptoms of depression. Meditation often allows painful or traumatic memories to surface which can be distressing if the meditator is left to deal with them without the proper support. Intensive meditation has even caused psychotic symptoms in a few cases, such as hallucinations or depersonalization. These are just a few examples pointing to the importance of using meditation under therapeutic supervision for those struggling with mental health disorders.


Looking for Support?

When used correctly and under expert guidance, meditation can be a powerful supplemental method for treating mental health or substance use issues. However, it’s important to be aware of the risks and proceed with caution. At Tree House Recovery of Portland, Oregon, we help men create a healthy lifestyle free from drugs and alcohol. To learn more about our unique approach to treatment, explore our website or call us today at (503) 850-2474