Background: Mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) has been used effectively to treat a variety of physical and psychological disorders, including depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. Recently, several lines of research have explored the potential for mindfulness-therapy in treating somatization disorders, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Methods: Thirteen studies were identified as fulfilling the present criteria of employing randomized controlled trials to determine the efficacy of any form of MBT in treating somatization disorders. A meta-analysis of the effects of mindfulness-based therapy on pain, symptom severity, quality of life, depression, and anxiety was performed to determine the potential of this form of treatment.
Findings: While limited in power, the meta-analysis indicated a small to moderate positive effect of MBT (compared to wait-list or support group controls) in reducing pain (SMD = -0.21, 95% CI: -0.37, -0.03; p<0.05), symptom severity (SMD = -0.40, 95% CI: -0.54, -0.26; p<0.001), depression (SMD = -0.23, 95% CI: -0.40, -0.07, p<0.01), and anxiety (SMD = -0.20, 95% CI: -0.42, 0.02, p = 0.07) associated with somatization disorders, and improving quality of life (SMD = 0.39, 95% CI: 0.19, 0.59; p<0.001) in patients with this disorder. Subgroup analyses indicated that the efficacy of MBT was most consistent for irritable bowel syndrome (p<0.001 for pain, symptom severity, and quality of life), and that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MCBT) were more effective than eclectic/unspecified MBT.
Conclusions: Preliminary evidence suggests that MBT may be effective in treating at least some aspects of somatization disorders. Further research is warranted.