2 Nov 2015

The dark side of meditation

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:20 pm on 2 November 2015

Meditation and mindfulness can sometimes have unexpected and undesirable consequences according to clinical psychologist Dr Catherine Wikholm.    

She and co-author Dr Miquel Farias look at 50 years of research into the popular techniques in their new book: The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? 


Photo: 123rf

 Dr Wikholm says there is a flipside to the positive experience many people have.

“There’s a lot of evidence that mindfulness is great for a lot of people. What we are saying is that it doesn’t work the same way for everyone.  

“For some it will work well, for others perhaps not so much,” she says.

A study by the University of California looked at the effects on 27 people after a meditation retreat found that 63 percent  of them suffered at least one negative experience including panic, stress and anxiety.

“Meditation wasn’t designed to make us happier or more relaxed. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if negative issues do come up,” Dr Wikholm says.

“It doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile, but there is a need to increase awareness that meditation and mindfulness may not be the smooth ride that media stories about it might suggest,” she says.

Another concern, she says, is lack of regulation for teachers of mindfulness and meditation.

Dr Wikholm says some teachers do not have mental health experience and are unable to deal with issues that may arise. 

“Our concern is that people who do have difficult experiences a) may be unprepared for it and b) may be taught by someone who is not equipped to help them deal with it."

 “We are not anti-meditation,” Dr Wikholm says. 

She wants people who use these techniques to be prepared for positive and negative thoughts that may come up.

“We want to encourage sensible discussion about it, just an acknowledgement for what you might be opening up and to be prepared."