A Brief History of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at UVa

September 27, 2019 by hw8w@virginia.edu

By John Schorling

Two Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses started at UVa last week.  In our introduction to the class we are teaching for healthcare providers, Matt Goodman and I briefly reflected on the history of the Mindfulness Center, with which we have been affiliated for 23 and 18 years respectively.  This led me to want to expand on this a bit more.

MBSR courses remain the core offerings of the Mindfulness Center as they have for the past 24 years, since the Mindfulness Center was established by Maria Tussi Kluge and Allie Rudolph as one of the first such centers in an academic institution in the country.  MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and first taught in the University of Massachusetts Stress Management Clinic in 1979.  The benefits for patients quickly became apparent, and led to several formal research studies.  These studies confirmed that participants’ stress levels decreased and wellbeing increased, and Jon with help from Saki Santorelli began offering courses to teach others how to teach MBSR.  Maria and Allie were pioneers in pursuing this training as they attended the first Teacher Development Intensive ever taught by Jon and Saki.

The same eight-week curriculum with an all-day silent retreat after the sixth class has been used since the beginning of MBSR.  As a common curriculum was used by everyone who taught MBSR and all approved teachers were taught by Jon, Saki and their colleagues at the University of Massachusetts, there was a high level of consistency in MBSR offerings.  This contributed to funding agencies being willing to support research studies since MBSR was a well documented intervention that could be replicated outside research settings.  Foundations provided much of the initial funding, and with time this expanded to include federal funding from the NIH, the VA and even the Department of Defense.  As the evidence base supporting the efficacy of MBSR and other related interventions such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy expanded, interest in mindfulness grew and moved from healthcare into education, business, law and beyond, sparking what has been called the mindfulness revolution.

All of this can largely be traced back to the first MBSR course taught in 1979 when the age-old practices of meditation and mindfulness were systematically applied to and studied in healthcare.  In 2005, when we published our first UVa research study on MBSR (a trial of its impact among patients with chronic pain), there were 129 mindfulness references in PubMed.  Now there are over 6,800.  The benefits of MBSR are now well established.

We at the UVa Mindfulness Center are proud to have been among the early adopters as this has allowed us to share the benefits of mindfulness with so many people.  None of this would have been possible without the combined efforts of all the UVa Mindfulness Center staff and teachers who have contributed over the past 24 years.  These include, among others, current administrator Harriet Whiting and instructors Susan Stone, Teresa Miller, Cawood Fitzhugh, and Susanna Williams, and Sam Green, Laura Miller and Joe Jackson who taught in the past. Hopefully we will be able to continue this work that emphasizes the cultivation of wisdom, kindness and compassion through and within the UVA Health System for at least as long into the future.

Filed Under: Monthly Musings