No Shame in Trying to Be Mindful

Substance abuse patients combat shame with acceptance and commitment therapy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Shame is the painful aura of humiliation felt after committing an error, and many dealing with alcohol and drug abuse often seek therapy to manage these tough emotions.

A new research study recommends that these substance abusers try Buddhist principles to cope with of damaging emotions like shame and embarrassment.

Researchers tested a mindfulness-based treatment called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) on recovering drug addicts and uncovered increasing success in fighting emotional distress.

"Ask your therapist about mindfulness-based therapies."

Lead researcher Jason Luoma, Ph.D., notes, “An approach to shame based on mindfulness and acceptance appears to produce better treatment attendance and reduced substance use.”

Dr. Luoma tested the effects of mindfulness-based treatments while treating 133 addiction patients in a 28-day treatment program. While half the individuals underwent normal therapies, the others received treatment based on the principles of ACT.

According to the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, ACT is a “psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility.”

The Association defines psychological flexibility as the ability to be in the present moment “fully as a conscious human being” and acting according to a chosen set of values, and research suggests it works!

“The ACT intervention resulted in smaller immediate gains in shame, but larger reductions at 4-month follow-up,” Dr. Luoma reports. “Those attending the ACT group also evidenced fewer days of substance use and higher treatment attendance at follow-up.”

Contributing expert Peter Strong, Ph.D., practices mindfulness-based cognitive therapy with patients online via Skype. dailyRx asks Dr. Strong for his professional opinion on how mindfulness helps in the healing process.

“The power of acceptance is one of the key factors for recovery from the negative effects of unresolved core emotions such as shame, guilt and self-criticism,” he explains. “If these core emotions remain unresolved, then they can lead to negative behaviors such as substance abuse.”

Dr. Strong notes that acceptance comes in varying forms, one more useful than the other. “Static” and “dynamic” acceptances differ in the role of the acceptor.

“Static acceptance describes the cognitive process of resignation, of just accepting the way things are,” says Strong. “This implies taking a subservient position as a victim.”

He explains that mindfulness-based acceptance is dynamic in the sense that there’s an “on-going relationship with the emotions” that is based on active inquiry and conscientious observation.

The dailyRx expert explains that this acceptance is “very empowering and greatly facilitates healing.” 

The study is going to be published in the February issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology and is currently available online.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 27, 2012
Last Updated:
January 28, 2012