I was recently reminded of the old commercial for E.F. Hutton: “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” In the ad, a young professional remarks to his buddy while jogging that his broker was E.F. Hutton, which causes everyone on the street to stop and listen to him. I had a similar feeling when I discovered an opinion piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), "Exploring the Promise of Mindfulness as Medicine." I dropped what I was doing and went online to get the article and read it.
JAMA usually has this effect on me, perhaps because its articles must pass stringent scientific scrutiny, so if mindfulness is featured, I am especially curious about what is being said. The author of the commentary, Laura Bucholz, pointed out that while benefits of mindfulness practices in the clinical sphere are now more widely accepted, for clients to have access to these programs, clinicians must have access to training.
This has been a topic of fulsome discussion over the past few years. John, Mark, and I first addressed this point when we outlined training guidelines in the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) treatment manual and revised them in the second edition of our book. These days, it is possible to find training pathways that move therapists along to becoming an accredited or certified MBCT instructor, which build on our recommendations and add additional supervised experiences. Still, if I am being honest, it is hard to pinpoint where the sweet spot for training really sits.
Yes, intensive in-person workshops and retreats are important, as is clinical supervision, but they are limited in providing training for large numbers of therapists. Online programs, such as Mindful Mood Balance for Professionals or the Three Minute Breathing Space, offer remote access and extended learning, yet they may not be sufficiently intensive in and of themselves. One of my take-aways from the JAMA paper is that as MBCT matures, it will need to professionalize its training requirements and define standards for its delivery in health and mental health care.
Given that current MBCT therapists come from a variety of training backgrounds, both therapeutic and contemplative, it may be time to develop more consensus and standardization in the field about the types of training experiences required to teach MBCT. It also may be time to develop an Academy of MBCT. Such an organization could review instructors’ training and competence. In this way, it might provide a centralized accreditation function and a professional home for MBCT clinicians. This would allow a number of training programs to flourish alongside other, more informal training trajectories, but all aiming to satisfy the basic competencies for teaching MBCT. An Academy of MBCT would move us closer to the type of professional and accountable delivery of MBCT called for in Bucholz’s piece.