Healing the heart: a randomized pilot study of a spiritual retreat for depression in acute coronary syndrome patients

Explore (NY). 2011 Jul-Aug;7(4):222-33. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2011.04.002.


Background: Depression is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in coronary heart disease. Numerous conventional and complementary therapies may address depression. Few involving spirituality have been tested.

Objective: The aim of this study was to compare the effects of a nondenominational spiritual retreat, Medicine for the Earth (MFTE), on depression and other measures of well-being six- to 18-months post acute coronary syndrome (ACS).

Design/setting: A randomized controlled pilot study of MFTE, Lifestyle Change Program (LCP), or usual cardiac care (control) was conducted in Southeastern Michigan.

Participants: ACS patients were recruited via local and national advertising (n = 58 enrolled, 41 completed).

Interventions: The four-day MFTE intervention included guided imagery, meditation, drumming, journal writing, and nature-based activities. The four-day LCP included nutrition education, exercise, and stress management. Both retreat groups received follow-up phone coaching biweekly for three months.

Main outcome measures: Validated self-report scales of depression, spiritual well-being, perceived stress, and hope were collected at baseline, immediately post-retreat, and at three and six months.

Results: Depression was not significantly different among groups (P = .21). However, the MFTE group had the highest depression scores at baseline and had significantly lower scores at all postintervention time points (P ≤ .002). Hope significantly improved among MFTE participants, an effect that persisted at three- and six-month follow-up (P = .014). Although several measures showed improvement in all groups by six months, the MFTE group had immediate improvement post-retreat, which was maintained.

Conclusions: This pilot study shows that a nondenominational spiritual retreat, MFTE, can be used to increase hope while reducing depression in patients with ACS.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acute Coronary Syndrome / psychology*
  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Diet
  • Emotions*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Education
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mind-Body Therapies*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Self Report
  • Spiritual Therapies*
  • Spirituality
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*