Researchers from the University of Washington and University of Utah have found that a new type of body awareness training known as Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy (MABT)—coupled with one-on-one outpatient counseling—helps women recover from addiction while also cutting relapse rates.
Participants in the study learned techniques of Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy to promote emotion regulation and self-care.
According to Cynthia J. Price, research associate professor at the University of Washington School of Nursing and lead author of the study, "Women who used the skills learned in the...Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy intervention showed less relapse to drug and alcohol use compared to those who didn’t receive the intervention."
What is Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy?
MABT is a training program that teaches interoceptive awareness for the facilitation of emotional regulation and self-awareness. According to a report published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, "interoceptive awareness is the ability to perceive, access and appraise inner body sensations."
More specifically, the International Journal on Biomedical and Psychosocial Approaches explains, "The primary goals of MABT are to learn to access interoceptive awareness through mindful meditative attention, to develop the capacity for sustained attention within specific areas of the body, to learn an inquiry process related to sensory awareness that promotes self-awareness and insight, and to develop interoceptive awareness practices that can be integrated into daily life to promote self-care and emotion regulation."
This innovative program utilizes a personalized and flexible approach, as it is delivered individually to clients. Touch is used to direct awareness to the body, along with mindfulness and psycho-education approaches that help coach clients to use self-touch for the same purpose.
The MABT program is designed for individuals who seek emotional awareness but practice avoidance of emotions and are disconnected from their bodies. This disconnect is typically due to trauma, pain, stress or addiction. In addition, MABT is helpful for those with chronic health problems by offering enhanced sensory awareness for the purpose of symptom management.
The study included 187 women in treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) at three Seattle-area locations. Researchers split the cohort into three relatively equal groups.
Each group continued with their substance use disorder treatment, with one group receiving only SUD treatment or treatment as usual (TAU), another group learning MABT in conjunction with treatment, and the third group receiving a women's health education curriculum in addition to SUD treatment. The primary purpose of this division was to test whether or not additional attention and time would explain any positive outcomes of the study.
Researchers tested the participants on several factors, including distress cravings, substance use, emotion regulation (psychophysiology and self-report), interoceptive awareness and mindfulness skills at the onset of the study and again at 3, 6 and 12 months. Those who received MABT intervention showed lasting improvements, while participants in the other two study groups did not.
Regarding substance use, MABT outcomes were superior to the TAU group from the 3-month post-test throughout the followup period. For individuals who reported substance use during the 12-month study period, it still appeared that MABT facilitated a reduction in cravings, as well as substance use in response to social pressure.
Additionally, those receiving MABT showed significant improvement rates in depression, eating disorder symptoms, anxiety and frequency of physical symptoms compared to the TAU group. Also promising, women in the MABT group exhibited reduced perceived stress and emotion regulation difficulties—as well as decreased dissociation—compared to the women in the TAU group.
It appears from this research that MABT training in conjunction with intensive outpatient therapy is promising as a new sensory approach to addressing the underlying causes of relapse, such as disconnection from emotions, as well as dissociation from the body due to past trauma, anxiety, pain and the stress of addiction, among other factors. MABT may prove particularly relevant to women, due the high rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and trauma found in this population.
Also encouraging about the outlook for teaching MABT techniques in conjunction with SUD treatment is that interoceptive self-care, as well as other coping skills that were acquired during intervention, carried over beyond treatment with participants incorporating MABT techniques into daily life.
When MABT is utilized as an alternative therapy for SUD treatment in adjunct with both inpatient and outpatient treatment, it appears to be highly effective due to its deep focus on the biological sources of emotions, along with practical techniques to apply in everyday life for emotion regulation.