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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah on Wednesday announced the launch of a research center on campus that will study the effects of a psychological wellness concept called mindfulness.
The Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development will oversee $17 million in federal research grants that have so far been obtained by center director Eric Garland, an associate professor at the U. and associate dean of the College of Social Work.
Garland said the center will not only "move the science forward" on mindfulness, but will provide practical training for health care providers on how to employ mindfulness as a productive treatment for patients.
He defined mindfulness as "a form of mental training."
"It's a form of training the mind — to strengthen the mind, to reduce stress and to help people to stop falling into unhealthy habits that might be affecting their mental and physical health," Garland said.
"Mindfulness is paying attention to your experience in the present moment in a particular kind of way — paying attention to your thoughts and feelings and sensations in your body ... observing them as if you were a witness or an objective observer."
Garland's grants include contributions from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense, following his previously published research associating mindfulness with various aspects of improved health.
Garland has pioneered a treatment called Mindfulness Oriented Recovery Enhancement that combines mindfulness training with an element from cognitive therapy called re-appraisal, as well as an aspect of positive psychology called savoring.
He said the initial work of the new center is "primarily interested in how does the (mindfulness) treatment help people" who suffer from chronic pain.
He hopes it becomes the go-to center for all mindfulness-related research in the Intermountain West, as well as a critical resource for training medical professionals in the practical application of mindfulness treatments.
"We're conducting the science and we're training clinicians to implement these therapies in standard health care," Garland said. "The goal of the center is to help use the most rigorous science possible to show that these are valid approaches to health care and they should be integrated into standard medical care."
Garland added that some therapists, social workers, physicians, and nurses have already been trained in how to use the Mindfulness Oriented Recovery Enhancement treatment to help their patients.
He said research at the new center will be interdisciplinary by nature and will involve U. faculty from the social work, psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience and primary care fields, among others.
The center will also "provide research opportunities for undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral fellows interested in studying mindfulness and integrative behavioral health," U. spokeswoman Brooke Adams said in a statement.