Can Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention Be Used with Prayer?

Mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) is an addiction treatment approach originated in 2010 by the late Alan Marlatt and his research team at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington. The secular program caters to each individual’s needs, but what happens when that person has a large base in spirituality?

To learn more about MBRP and how it can be used with prayer, Pathway to Hope conducted an interview with Sarah Bowen, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Pacific University Oregon and one of the founding researchers of mindfulness-based relapse prevention under Marlatt’s mentorship. She has authored numerous articles and guest book chapters on MBRP and related topics, and is the co-author of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention for Addictive Behaviors: A Clinician’s Guide.

Understanding mindfulness-based relapse prevention as the next step after treatment

“I’d say that the primary training goal [of MBRP] is to help people become more aware of their own processes, specifically those that lead to addictive behavior,” said Bowen. “Through mindfulness-based relapse prevention, they learn to process their thoughts, sensations, and see how they affect their behaviors.”

The program, which on average takes six to eight weeks to complete, is designed to help clients after they’ve gone through addiction treatment by teaching them how to live in recovery.

“A second foundation is to learn things that seem to be triggering—physical pain, external objects, anxiety and depression—and learn how to notice those triggers so that we’re not just automatically reacting to the discomfort until they go away.”

Clients may participate in both individual and group sessions at a MBRP program location, where they must learn to create a nonjudgmental, compassionate approach toward themselves and build a lifestyle of mindfulness practice and recovery.

First, clients get rid of preconceived notions about MBRP

Plenty of people assume what mindfulness or meditation may involve, attributing it to questionable holistic medicine rather than a science with proven evidence.

A study led by Bowen and her colleagues published in the 2014 JAMA Psychiatry detailed research results that showed recovering persons who participated in MBRP programs had lower relapse rates than those who followed traditional 12-step programs. And even among MBRP participants who did relapse, they reported significantly fewer days of substance use at their six-month and one-year follow-ups.

When asked if she met with clients who figured mindfulness-based relapse prevention as just some other new age practice, Bowen said, “[Clients] think of meditation/mindfulness and they think of feeling peaceful—and that’s not how it is. They come in and they don’t feel peaceful.”

Clients are encouraged to practice their MBRP sessions every day, which work to help clients become more in control with their triggers and negative responses.

“They work with where they are and they get what they get; the misconceptions are the primary barrier,” said Bowen. “People think they have to feel a certain way and all we do is let people understand what is happening and let them observe their own experiences.”

Mixing prayer with mindfulness-based relapse prevention

Though mindfulness-based relapse prevention is not faith-based or spiritual, for clients who received addiction treatment at rehab centers that have Christian or faith-based tracts like Pathway to Hope, we asked if those clients could apply MBRP techniques as a good complement.

“There’re a lot of people who are AA-involved,” responded Bowen. “They draw in a higher power. They go together beautifully.”

Bowen said in the interview that she doesn’t think faith and MBRP are opposed to one another, going further to say that she encourages clients to pursue the pair if they feel stronger doing so.

“[It’s] a lot of accepting things as they are, realizing we don’t have a lot of power. There’re a lot of things we don’t have control over. It’s not our job in trying to control the universe and other people’s behaviors—and that’s because it could be God’s job. It’s not my job to run the world. It’s my job to have an eye on what’s going on around me.”

MBRP can help clients have faith in themselves

The program generally takes six to eight weeks, Bowen said, to complete for clients to “really sink into this,” though some clients may continue sessions after that point. During that time, Bowen aims to help clients discover a “new way to get to know themselves” as they interact with the world and regroup in their sessions.

“We can’t change the past. The way the past often harms us, is we try to change it and we’re stuck on it. The reality is: It’s over. It’s done. It’s only in our minds,” said Bowen. “If we can let go of that, we can learn from our past.”

So even though clients may choose to go through a short period of MBRP sessions, the lessons they learn about themselves and how it relates to their faith can give them strength for a lifetime.

“Ultimately, they just need themselves,” said Bowen. “They don’t need me or someone else, but they ultimately have to learn that that’s actually true.”

Need help? Come to Pathway to Hope

If you, or a loved one, are struggling with addiction, then call one of our treatment specialists at Pathway to Hope at 844-557-8575. Our 24-hour helpline provides call assistance to anyone who would like to learn more about addiction treatment, detox services, and how to fund their drug treatment plans.

At Pathway to Hope, we care about the livelihood of each and every one of our clients, making sure to discuss life skills and relapse prevention before clients reenter life in recovery. Clients can also partake in our Christian tract program, where they can complement their treatment with group meetings about faith and spiritual discovery. So wherever your path may lead you, Pathway to Hope wants to make sure it’s the right one.