Tinnitus is a medical condition defined by the perception of a sound, often described as a ringing, that is not caused by any external source. It is said to affect six million people in the United Kingdom. Around one in every 100 tinnitus patients experience extreme distress from the condition, some even becoming disabled by it, but one in every 20 patients is moderately distressed by their tinnitus. Distress includes emotional stress, insomnia, auditory perceptual problems, and problems concentrating.
Until now, there have been no viable treatment options for tinnitus, but a new study from the Department of Psychology at the University College London Hospitals suggests that mindfulness is a potential new treatment for the condition. The researchers compared the effects of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) with the more commonly practiced relaxation therapies.
Relaxation therapies are aimed at helping patients arm themselves with specific skills to reduce overall stress levels. The new treatment option explored in the study, MBCT, focuses on being intentionally present in the moment, rather than trying to suppress the current experience. This type of therapy practices acceptance and allowance for the current circumstances rather than battling against a situation in order to relax. The focus of the therapy is not to change the symptoms of tinnitus that patients experience, but rather to teach them how to accept them.
“The mindfulness approach is radically different from what most tinnitus sufferers have tried before, and it may not be right for everyone. We are confident, however, that the growing research base has demonstrated how it can offer an exciting new treatment to people who may have found that traditional treatment has not been able to help them yet. We hope the results of our research will be one of the first steps to MBCT becoming more widely adopted,” said Dr. Liz Marks, from the University of Bath and one of the researchers on the study.
Mindfulness Therapy More Effective Than Relaxation
The study included 75 participants randomly assigned to either MBCT or relaxation therapy groups. According to the researchers, mindfulness practices did not completely stop the tinnitus, but it did help to reduce the severity of the symptoms experienced. Both treatment options, in fact, were found to reduce the severity of patients’ tinnitus, psychological distress, anxiety, and depression.
The MBCT treatment was more effective overall, however. The participants in the MBCT group showed a greater reduction in symptoms and longer lasting relief than those in the relaxation therapy group.
David Stockdale, chief executive of the British Tinnitus Association, said about the results, “The results of this research are extremely encouraging particularly for people with chronic tinnitus who find that current treatments are not working for them. We really hope that more people will be able to benefit from this approach moving forward.”
Further research will be needed in order to solidify the findings of the researchers in this experiment and to further uncover the mechanisms behind mindfulness cognitive therapies that are so beneficial to people.
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