by Restorations Therapy Center on Friday, April 3rd, 2020
Meditation is now a part of many addiction treatment programs and many therapists use it as part of treatment. For example, dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, is a therapeutic method first developed to treat borderline personality disorder but has also been proven effective for treating other tough conditions like eating disorders, suicidal depression, and addiction. DBT teaches mindfulness as a way of increasing distress tolerance. Yoga is also now a common element in many addiction treatment programs. While yoga is best known for its challenging physical postures, meditation is actually central to the practice and what typically delivers the most benefits.
Despite the extensive media coverage of various kinds of meditation–or perhaps because of it–there are a lot of misconceptions about meditation, what it is, and what it can do. These misconceptions can lead to wasting time, giving up prematurely, or, in some cases, making things worse. Here are some common misconceptions about meditation as it relates to addiction recovery.
Meditation can definitely not replace therapy. Much of the media attention around meditation has focused on its mental health benefits such as reducing overall stress and anxiety, as well as symptoms of depression. As noted above, it can also help you cope with distressing emotions, including drug and alcohol cravings.
However, it’s important to note that most of the studies that show mental health benefits from meditation look at meditation used in addition to standard treatment, not as a stand-alone therapy. So, for example, if two people seek treatment for an anxiety disorder, the person who incorporates mindfulness meditation into their treatment plan is likely to do a bit better than the person who doesn’t.
The reason is that therapy is about far more than what meditation is supposed to do. Mental health issues often stem from trauma, abuse, childhood environment, and genes. Proper treatment may involve extensive therapy and medication. What’s more, certain mental health issues can make it very hard to meditate and might even make meditation counterproductive. That’s why meditation teachers often warn against using meditation as therapy and suggest you address mental health issues before engaging in intensive meditative practice.
In recent decades, meditation has lost much of its associations with Eastern religions and New Age philosophy, replaced to some extent by associations with the Silicon Valley cult of productivity. However, some people are still averse to it, either because of their own religious faith or because of their skepticism.
In reality, there’s nothing especially religious or even spiritual about meditation. It’s mainly a practice of sitting still and letting the mind rest. If you’ve ever plopped yourself in a chair after a long day or a hard workout and just let yourself stare at the wall for a few minutes, not bothered by your thoughts or ideas of what you should be doing, then you’ve experienced meditation. Alternatively, if you’re a religious person who has ever become so absorbed in prayer that your thoughts and worries seemed to recede into the background, then you have also experienced meditation.
Meditation is often represented in popular culture as an attempt to clear your mind of thoughts. This is one of the most counterproductive myths to effective meditation because clearing your mind is nearly impossible. Your brain is just going to think because that’s what it does. The goal of meditation is rather to watch your thoughts without getting too involved. The difference between watching your thoughts and getting caught up in them is like the difference between shooting the rapids in a kayak and watching someone kayak from the river bank. Trying to force your mind to stop thinking only results in frustration and self-criticism.
Related to the idea that meditation is about blanking your mind is the idea that meditation is about escaping life’s problems and bliss out for a certain amount of time each day. In a way, mindfulness meditation is the exact opposite of this. Instead of banishing your thoughts, you learn to look at them and the feelings they provoke in a nonjudgmental way. Instead of avoiding your thoughts and emotions, you accept them. Learning to accept your thoughts and emotions rather than avoid them is especially important for addiction recovery.
Part of the appeal of meditation has been that there is no perceived downside–everyone can benefit from it to some extent, and if not, at least it doesn’t cause any harm. However, if something is powerful enough to help you, then it can also hurt you. The danger for most people is that their meditation sessions will turn into rumination sessions. Instead of engaging with their thoughts nonjudgmentally, for example, they ruminate on depressing thoughts and end up feeling worse. The way to avoid that pitfall is to do your research before you start or, even better, find a good teacher. Some people who have engaged in intensive meditation retreats have had more serious problems, including depersonalization, loss of motivation, and even psychotic symptoms. This is a small percentage but it’s important to be aware of the risks.
Meditation can be an excellent part of a treatment program and recovery plan. It can help you cope with challenging emotions and cravings and increase your overall sense of wellbeing. A meditation group can also provide a sense of community. However, it’s important to keep meditation in its proper perspective. It’s not a panacea or a form of escapism but rather a way to enhance therapy and recovery.
Located in Centennial, Colorado, Restoration Therapy works with patients who are struggling with addiction, intimacy disorders, and trauma who are seeking treatment. In order to offer patients a more holistic view on healthy sexuality, Restoration Therapy offers individualized and group therapy, workshops, psycho-educational classes, and more to restore the harm brought on by addiction and intimacy issues. For more information, please call us at (720) 446-6585 as we are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.