October 22, 2021
In this episode, Wendy speaks with clinical psychologist and meditation researcher, Willoughby Britton. Willoughby is a pioneer in contemplative research and one of the only people dedicated to understanding the possible negative outcomes from meditation (so called meditation-related adverse experiences). This conversation covers many topics, including:
- how she came to study the negative side of meditation;
- support and resources for those struggling with meditation-related difficulties (Cheetah House);
- scientific research on meditation-related adverse experiences;
- changes in perception and anxiety that can happen with meditation;
- how the same experience can be positive or negative depending on context;
- how the causes of adverse effects may be the same as the causes of benefits;
- the science of measuring harms in meditation research;
- what we know (and don’t know) about these effects—who’s at risk, how frequent they are, and how they show up for people;
- whether or not these difficulties are “part of the path” of transformation;
- grounding care in compassion and inclusion;
- and aligning practices with the outcomes you want.
Willoughby Britton is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University Medical School, and the Director of Brown’s Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory. Her clinical neuroscience research investigates the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and body in the treatment of mood disorders, trauma and other emotional disturbances. She is especially interested in practice-specific effects, individual differences and moderators of treatment outcome—or in other words, “Which practices are best or worst suited for which types of people or conditions, and why?” She is probably best known for her research on adverse effects, and creating best practices around harms monitoring and reporting.
Willoughby has been trained as an instructor in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and has taught mindfulness to both clinical and non-clinical populations. She now specializes in helping meditators who are experiencing meditation-related difficulties, and providing meditation safety trainings to providers and organizations.
- Paper: Goldberg et al. Prevalence of meditation-related adverse effects in a population-based sample in the United States. Psychotherapy research : Journal of the Society for Psychotherapy Research, 2021
- Paper: Britton et al. Defining and Measuring Meditation-Related Adverse Effects in Mindfulness-Based Programs. Clinical Psychological Science, 2021
- Paper: Lindahl et al. Progress or Pathology? Differential Diagnosis and Intervention Criteria for Meditation-Related Challenges: Perspectives From Buddhist Meditation Teachers and Practitioners. Frontiers in Psychology, 2020
- Paper: Britton, WB. Can mindfulness be too much of a good thing? The value of a middle way. Current Opinion in Psychology, 2019
- Chapter: Lindahl et al. Challenging and Adverse Meditation Experiences: Toward a Person-Centered Approach. The Oxford Handbook of Meditation, 2019
- Paper: Britton et al. Dismantling Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy: Creation and validation of 8-week focused attention and open monitoring interventions within a 3-armed randomized controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 2018
- Paper: Lindahl et al. The Varieties of Contemplative Experience: A Mixed-Method Study of Meditation-Related Challenges in Western Buddhists. PLOS ONE, 2017
- Paper: Lindahl at al. A phenomenology of meditation-induced light experiences: traditional buddhist and neurobiological perspectives. Frontiers in Psychology, 2014