Meditation Therapy and Co-Occurring Treatment

Written by Journey Pure Staff

Over the past three decades, meditation therapy has spread rapidly through the fields of medicine, mental health, and education as a way to reduce toxic stress and impulsivity and increase emotion regulation, executive function, empathy, and overall physical, emotional and cognitive wellbeing. In treating addiction, empirical evidence is beginning to show overwhelming evidence in support of the neurobiological, psychological, and social benefits of meditation: improvements in immune and brain function[1]; increased attention, self-regulation, memory and learning capacity[2]; better quality of relationships[3]; and an increased ability to prevent relapse and recurrence of major depression[4] among many other mental health and co-occurring disorders.

A Holistic Approach: Addressing Symptomology for Co-Occurring Disorders

Many of us come to treatment with co-occurring mental health disorders. By definition, a co-occurring disorder is when a person experiences “the existence of simultaneous mental health and substance use disorders” (i.e. Bi-Polar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that people with mental health disorders are more likely than others to develop a substance use disorder. In this regard, a comprehensive treatment approach requires that the treatment team considers interventions and methods of assisting clients in coping with the common anxieties, loss of sleep, mood fluctuations, and general feelings of distress that often accompany such complex conditions. Meditation therapy is one of the most effective and holistic means of helping clients regulate distressing emotions and mood fluctuations associated with co-occurring mental health disorders.

Meditation & Emotion Regulation   

Meditation is fundamentally a science of attention training.  It is the practice of bringing attention to the direct experience of what is happening right now. Sustained practice cultivates the ability to drop beneath compulsive thinking and emotional reactivity into a more direct experience of feeling and sensation.  The fruition of practice is a sense of being less scattered, less caught up in doing and in fixing, and less likely to get locked into fixed afflictive patterns and emotional disturbances. Often times, we cannot predict when emotional disturbances or mental obsessions are triggered, however, through meditation practices we can learn to stabilize our emotional reactions by directing our attention back into the breath and body, engaging with the here-and-now.

Modern-day neuroscience tells us that whatever we pay attention to gets magnified. If we spend too much time tending to stressful, worrisome, or shameful thoughts, we start to live from this reality, and even worse, we start to react—i.e. behave—in accordance with this reality. One application of meditation therapy is that it helps us “break the addiction” to the urgency of the thinking mind and redirect our attention out of destructive cycles of thinking, which, in turn, positively affects our behaviors.

Utilizing the tenets of meditation therapy in addiction treatment helps to significantly reduce the emotion and mood disturbances that are often associated with co-occurring disorders. In helping clients learn the stabilizing and self-inquiry skills associated with meditation therapy, the treatment team can provide a more holistic method of supporting clients’ long-term mental health needs.

[1] Davidson, R., et al. (2003). Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 564-


[2] Tang, Y., et al. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. PNAS, 104(43), 17152-17156.

[3] Singh, N., et al. (2007). Mindful Parenting Decreases Aggression and Increases Social Behavior in Children with Developmental Disabilities.

              Behavior Modification, 31(6), 749-771.

[4] Teasdale, J., et al. (2000). Prevention of Relapse/Recurrence in Major Depression by Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. Journal of

              Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 68(4), 615-623.