McMindful: Make money as a mindfulness trainer, no background or weekend retreat required

Can a clinical psychologist ethically offer a product with claims that it can turn anyone quickly into a mindfulness trainer, regardless of background or previous training?

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With an interview with Lynette Monteiro, PhD, Co-founder Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic and Editor of Practitioner’s Guide to Ethics and Mindfulness Based Interventions with Jane Compson and Frank Musten.

hustleA web-based training package promises to turn anyone quickly into a mindfulness trainer, regardless of background or previous training.

Can a clinical psychologist ethically offer a product with such improbable claims that it can be applied to patients by persons who have not been vetted for competence or fitness to treat patients?

Promoters of the package claim it is backed by more science than its competitors.

There are no legal restraints in most jurisdictions on someone calling themselves a mindfulness trainer, coach, or therapist. No training requirements or background check.

There no enforceable ethical codes applicable to such persons once they hang out their shingles.

Many treatment settings are replacing therapists with mindfulness trainers.

Many persons with serious mental health problems seek mindfulness training, but this training does not prepare trainers to recognize and refer such persons.

I didn’t act quickly enough to a series of frantic emails from Seph Fontane Pennock Positive Psychology Program, and so I missed out on a deep discount for an exciting offer to become his next success story.

If I had been quicker. I could have received a 40% discount on a $750 downloadable training package that promised to turn anyone into a money-making mindfulness trainer, without them having to acquire any background or participate in a weekend retreat. It did not matter if a purchaser did not have any clinical background, because the program would release “the real trainer, teacher and coach in yourself that you’ll be proud of.”

My final invitation to become mindfulness trainer came in a breathless gushy, seemingly personalized email that began:  “Hey Jim, I’m blown away by all the emails about the success our members have started to see..”

The email continued with testimonials from purchasers who were impressed that they could customize the materials to appear to be their own, including by putting their company logo on them.

The wannabe trainer doesn’t even need to study the package before slapping on a relabeling and selling to clients and industry.

The website makes it clear that it is superior to other training because it is better rooted in science. But just what does “rooted in science” mean? Is that as vague and meaningless as saying that performance of your automobile is rooted in physics? I think claims about the efficacy of interventions needed to be rooted in randomized trials or program evaluation and there is no evidence that this package has been put to these kind of tests. And such “evidence” does not establish that similar results will be achieved by trainers without training  or supervision.

The package is billed has instantly turning purchasers into mindfulness trainers.

You can simply take this, go out and teach mindfulness …

No longer will you have to go from A to B, from B to C, etc. Instead, you can go straight from A to Z. Mindfulness X is the ultimate shortcut.

It is claimed that professionals will be able to “instantly and successfully teach mindfulness.”

Who is the mastermind behind Mindfulness X?

Dr. Hugo Alberts (Ph.D.) describes himself as a “professor, entrepreneur and coach” who has touched the lives of thousands. With Mindfulness X, he had become a sought after trainer, but decided to stop live presentations in order to touch even more lives with this downloadable product.

When I checked, I found Hugo (H.J.E.M.) Alberts, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Clinical Psychological Science Department at Maastricht University. Web of Sciences lists 19 publications for him, including a couple of low quality, underpowered studies of mindfulness.

Most importantly, I find no evidence of any peer-reviewed evaluation of Mindfulness X. The key issue is that Alberts is claiming extraordinary efficacy for this program. If his claims are true, it is more effective than any psychotherapy. Extraordinary claims require….

Elsewhere I have provided continually updated evaluations of mindfulness-based training and therapies. There is still a lack of evidence of any advantage of mindfulness over other active treatments. Claims about mechanism depend on low quality studies that do not rule out anything beyond nonspecific –placebo- effects. There may be no specific mechanism beyond that.

Mindfulness training is mostly a benign treatment, often delivered to persons who are lacking moderate to severe psychological problems. But it can have adverse effects on persons suffering simple or complex PTSD, ruminative chronic depression, or psychosis.

An increasing proportion of the treatment or coaching of persons with serious psychological problems is being done by persons lacking in any protected title or any independent certification of qualifications.

Such providers are not bound by enforceable ethics codes.

My advice to Dr Albert: You are quite junior. If you are serious about your scientific career, concentrate on producing quality research, not so much on making money in ways that threaten perceptions of your integrity. I assume you are a clinical psychologist. You have a responsibility to stick to evidence-based claims and to avoid the harm of turning loose on the community ill-trained or untrained promoters of mindfulness, particularly with vulnerable clients.

I sent Dr. Lynette Monteiro some questions and she kindly responded.

“How much should consumers be concerned about the qualifications and competence of a counselor with a certificate on the wall claiming completion of an internet course in mindfulness?” 

Consumers should be very concerned if the provider is not trained in a specifically-identified program (MBSR, MBCT, MBSM, etc.) and trained by an accredited certified organization. A general “mindfulness” training is not a guarantee of knowledge or skill. Completing a post-graduate degree without evidence of specialized training is insufficient to guarantee competence or even necessarily consumer protection.

How could they tell if the counselor knows what they are doing?

Any individual that makes promises that go beyond reasonable expectations (and the person’s skills) should be suspect. Facilitators should be open to pointed questions about the program: how it was developed, what is the support for it, how were they trained, what are the safeguards in case of negative reactions to meditations. Any suggestion to “just stay with the negative feelings” warrants serious concern. The credentials and training of the facilitator should be transparently stated and available on their website or upon request.

 “These promoters say their product are 100% evidence-based. Is that reassuring?”

Even if the program itself was evidence-based, it would/should not be reassuring because the efficacy of the delivery is contingent on the skills of the facilitator and their sensitivity to interaction effects with the participant. IOW, the efficacy of specific facilitator’s form of delivery is not evidence-based and confounded with demand characteristics.

I had planned to ask Dr. Monteiro about what she thought about a package that promised that those who purchased it would be ready to go out and “instantly and successfully teach mindfulness.” But I know she is very busy and I think we know what she would say.

Thanks, Dr. Monteiro.

Want to see more of Lynette’s thoughts on the need for standards in training and certifying mindfulness instructors? Check out her article in Tricycle,  a “unique and independent public forum for exploring Buddhism, establishing a dialogue between Buddhism and the broader culture, and introducing Buddhist thinking to Western disciplines.”

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