Mary Charlson: Expectancy, mindfulness and chronic illness

In this interview, Dr Charlson talks about her work with mindfulness interventions to improve outcome in chronic illness. While these situations are obviously more extreme than the situations many of us are faced with in everyday life, her work suggests that some mindful practices may improve our ability to make the difficult changes we need, or to deal with extremely difficult situations in our own lives:
– For cardiovascular patients, a daily practice of paying attention to what feels good in their life is associated with an increased and sustained ability to make the lifestyle changes they need, and hence an ability to stay healthy. When we try to make difficult changes, we usually focus on the drama of fighting bad habits. It might help to spend some time taking stock of the potential we have to take care of ourselves and to enjoy whatever good there is in our life.
– The ability of cancer patients to make peace with their condition is improved by a combination of basic mindfulness skills, and a reframing of their experience in terms of the inevitability of human suffering. Hence the working hypothesis to explore in our everyday life: When we deal with overwhelming situations, it may help to focus on mindfully regulating our natural reactivity, were it only to improve our ability to process a reframing of the situation.

Mary Charlson, MD, is the William T. Foley Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Director of the Center for Integrative Medicine and Chief of the Division of Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluative Sciences Research, at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Charlson received her medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine. After completing her residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, she was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at Yale.

As a clinical epidemiologist, her work has focused on developing interventions targeted at improving outcomes in chronic illness. She has developed the widely used Charlson Comorbidity Index. She has a long track record of successful RCTs among patients with chronic illness. Over the last fifteen years, a major focus has been on developing interventions that help patients change behavior and reduce stress to improve their overall health. She also has been the PI on 8 separate NHLBI funded RCTS involving 2,725 patients.

See also: Harnessing the power of the placebo effect

Published May 2016