What is the MBSR Course like?

The MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) Course is a way of learning  mindfulness skills  in a group format.

It lasts 8 weeks with each session lasting about 2.5 hours. In addition to practical instruction and training, the sessions provide support for participants in fostering a daily mindfulness practice as well as allowing discussion about how to integrate the ideas into every-day life

There is a day-long session in the sixth week of the class to help participants deepen their practice.

The Geneva Course is modelled after the world-renowned Stress Reduction Programme founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre (UMMC). This clinic is the oldest and largest stress reduction clinic in the world. The Stress Reduction Programme is now offered in over 200 medical centres, hospitals and clinics around the world, including some of the leading integrative medical centres, like the Duke Centre for Integrative Medicine. Over the last 32 years over 21,000 people have completed the Course at UMMC alone. Mindfulness skills have also been taught in other settings such as schools,  legal practices, prisons, and government agencies and in large business organizations.

This highly participatory, practical, skills-based course is aimed at training participants to be less reactive in stressful situations and includes:

  • Guided instruction in mindfulness meditation
  • Introduction to a number of mindfulness practices
  • Gentle stretching and mindful yoga
  • Group discussion aimed at developing the practices in everyday life
  • Daily home assignments
  • Guided audio and handouts for home practice.

MBSR has been found to be effective in promoting health and wellbeing for individuals facing a wide variety of challenges. There is a lot of published research which indicates that the majority of participants in the MBSR Course report improvements over a wide number of physical and psychological areas. The evidence in support of MBSR is so strong that almost 75% of GPs in the United Kingdom think it would be beneficial for all patients to learn mindfulness meditation skills.

In general, participants who completed the Course at the University of Massachusetts report:

  • An increased ability to relax
  • Reductions in pain levels and an enhanced capacity to deal with pain that will not go away
  • Greater energy and enthusiasm for life
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Lasting decreases in physical and psychological symptoms
  • An ability to cope more effectively with short and long-term stressful situations

Over the  years people have participated in the MBSR Course for diverse reasons. These include:

  • Stress – work-related, family or financial
  • Increasing work insecurity due to global uncertainty
  • Coping with the move to a new environment
  • Chronic pain and illness
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Sleep disturbances
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches

Many enrol because, although they are feeling quite well physically, they say the pace of their lives is “out of control”, they feel stuck or they are aware of “just not feeling quite right”

However, MBSR may NOT be suitable for every person or may not be an appropriate choice for you at this time. This may be the case if you are dealing with:

  • Substance abuse or dependence (currently or within the past year).
  • An acute medical problem requiring frequent intervention or treatment.
  • Psychological issues including trauma, severe depression, psychosis, active suicidal thoughts  or other major psychiatric diagnosis.

MBSR is not psychotherapy. It is NOT a substitute for mental health therapy or counselling, for medical care or for substance abuse treatment.

The MBSR Course contains gentle stretching and yoga exercises. Although very gentle, they may be beyond some people’s’ capabilities. As with all new exercise programmes,  participants should consult with their medical practitioners to ensure suitability. Participants are not obliged to engage in these parts of the programme if they have any concerns that they would be unable to complete them.

If you are interested, some sites containing information on research about mindfulness and MBSR:

Bangor University: www.bangor.ac.uk/mindfulness/

Duke University Centre for Integrative Medicine:  http://www.dukeintegrativemedicine.org/

Stress Reduction Centre UMass: www.umassmed.edu/cfm/home/index.aspx

USCD Centre for Mindfulness: www.ucsdcfm.wordpress.com

Harvard Medical School Publications: www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-improves-connections-in-the-brain-201104082253

A nice article on Mindfulness in schools :


Some research published in scientific journals: 

Kabat-Zinn. J., An out-patient program in Behavioral Medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: Theoretical considerations and preliminary results. General Hospital Psychiatry (1982) 4:33-47.

Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L.G., Fletcher, K., Pbert, L., Linderking, W., Santorelli, S. F., Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Am. J. Psychiatry (1992) 149:936-943.

Research on other Mindfulness-based treatments:

John Teasdale, Zinden Segal, Mark G. Williams, Ridgeway, Soulsby, Lau. Prevention of Relapse/Recurrence in Major Depression by Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.