Research Spotlight: Self-Help MBSR Proves Effective

You’ve probably heard the word “mindfulness” to describe a quality of awareness, reflecting our ability to pay attention in the present moment, willing to work with whatever experience we may find. Although meditation practices to cultivate mindfulness come from ancient Asian Buddhist traditions, many secular mindfulness-based programs teach mindfulness meditation to mainstream Americans, which include formal and self-help MBSR.

Formal MBSR courses can be expensive and time-consuming

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the original mindfulness-based program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the UMass Medical School in 1979, is supported by many research studies for problems ranging from chronic pain and coping with cancer to anxiety and panic. During weekly group sessions, participants learn how to care for themselves in times of stress, engaging in various forms of meditation and mindful movement practices. However, not everyone may be able to access these programs. MBSR courses can take up to 30 hours, cost hundreds of dollars, and may not be offered outside of urban areas. Luckily, a workbook version of MBSR written by two leaders in this field was published in 2010: A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein.

But, MBSR can be practiced at home too, with great results, research shows

This book contains a CD with guided meditation recordings, allowing the reader to practice at home just as MBSR course participants do. Recent research from our laboratory randomized college students seeking stress reduction to receive the workbook and complete a chapter each week or to wait until the study was over to use the workbook. We found that students who received the workbook reported less stress, anxiety, and depression afterward when compared to the wait-list group, at least for those students who continued through all 10 weeks of the study. They also reported improved quality of life and indeed found themselves to be more mindful in daily life.

Our results suggest that people motivated to complete this self-help program on their own also might reap the benefits of mindfulness practice. If you are currently working with a therapist, you might discuss with him or her whether a mindfulness program such as MBSR is right for you. Your therapist might be willing to support you using the MBSR workbook at home and sharing your experiences with the practices and exercises in therapy sessions.


Hazlett-Stevens, H., & Oren, Y. (2016). Effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction bibliotherapy: A preliminary randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1002/jclp.22370

Holly Hazlett-Stevens

Holly Hazlett-Stevens

Holly Hazlett-Stevens received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the Pennsylvania State University in 1999 under the mentorship of Dr. Thomas Borkovec. From 1999-2001, Dr. Hazlett-Stevens was a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles under the mentorship of Dr. Michelle Craske. Dr. Hazlett-Stevens joined the University of Nevada, Reno Psychology Department faculty in 2002, where she is currently an Associate Professor. She is the author of many scholarly papers and two books, Women Who Worry Too Much: How to Stop Worry & Anxiety from Ruining Relationships, Work, & Fun and Psychological approaches to generalized anxiety disorder: A clinician’s guide to assessment and treatment. She also co-authored New Directions in Progressive Relaxation Training with Douglas A. Bernstein and Thomas D. Borkovec. Dr. Hazlett-Stevens is certified in MBSR instruction by the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.

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Latest update: October 27, 2016
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