Managing a Spinal Cord Injury with Mindfulness

Breathworks Founder Vidyamala Burch suffered herself from two major spinal cord injuries, leaving her wheelchair-bound and partially paraplegic. Breathworks grew from her decades-long path of learning to use mindfulness and compassion to manage her subsequent chronic pain and health conditions. Her methods and her teaching have inspired thousands of people around the world, and transformed many lives for the better. 


Two studies published in March 2018, led by Dr. Jasmine Hearn, have found that the online version of the Breathworks Mindfulness for Health course can offer numerous psychological benefits to people with spinal cord injury, and their caregivers. Both studies utilised a novel randomised controlled trial method, and compared the online Mindfulness for Health course with standard educational materials about pain and spinal cord injury. Such education is often provided in rehabilitation settings soon after someone is diagnosed with a spinal injury, and aims to provide people with all of the relevant information they need in order to live well with spinal cord injury. The Mindfulness for Health online course offers the Breathworks approach to mindfulness in the form of an eight-week course that teaches participants about the underlying principles of mindfulness, through formal mindfulness practice (10 minutes, twice per day). The online course was chosen specifically to reduce any potential travel burden upon participants and provide them with ease of access to the course materials from the comfort of their own home.

For people with spinal cord injury, the Mindfulness for Health course was effective in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, pain unpleasantness, and pain catastrophising, more so than the educational materials. Levels of mindfulness were also assessed using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, which breaks mindfulness skills down into abilities of observing, describing, acting with awareness, non-judging of inner experience, and non-reactivity to inner experience. The results showed that the course was effective in significantly increasing all elements of mindfulness apart from observing. You can read more about this study here, or request a copy of the full-text from Jasmine at jasmine.hearn@buckingham.ac.uk

For caregivers, participation in the Breathworks Mindfulness for Health course facilitated improvements in symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improved quality of life. The course also improved all facets of mindfulness except for describing. This study is currently being reviewed for publication. Please contact Jasmine using the details provided if you would like to request a copy of the full paper when it is published.

These studies serve to highlight the promise of the Mindfulness for Health course for people with spinal cord injuries and their caregivers, and mark the first step in providing unique psychological interventions to manage distress for these specific groups of people.

 

Jasmine has also created a leaflet titled "Mindfulness for Living Well with Spinal Cord Injury", for patients who have suffered a spinal cord injury and are interested in exploring mindfulness as a treatment option. You can read that leaflet here: pdfMindfulness for Living Well with Spinal Cord Injury


About Jasmine

Dr. Jasmine Hearn Jasmine Hearneis a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Buckingham. Her research, conducted in conjunction with The National Spinal Injuries Centre, specialises in neuropathic pain after spinal cord injury. In 2014, her PhD research, which involved interviewing people with spinal cord injury about their experiences of pain, was awarded the Academy of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals Award for Outstanding Trainee Research. She is an accredited mindfulness teacher and is particularly interested in mindfulness and its applications to coping with pain and spinal cord injury, as well as in medical training.

Jasmine specialises in health psychology research, most often adopting qualitative methodologies, but also utilising mixed-methods approaches. Her current research projects include assessing methods of managing chronic neuropathic pain after spinal cord injury, language use and its effects on pain perception, factors influencing disclosure of HIV status to healthcare professionals, mental health literacy, and the use of mindfulness in medical training. Jasmine also sits on the committee of the European Spinal Psychologists Association.

Contact Jasmine at: jasmine.hearn@buckingham.ac.uk


Links for further information

Spinal Injuries Association

Breathworks Resources

Mindfulness for Health (book)

Mindfulness for Health course

Mindfulness for Health online