Pilot Program Yields Satisfying Results in Emotional Well-Being

Posted: January 22, 2024 | Category: News Well-Being Tips

There are tools out there to assist with mindfulness, emotional well-being, and simply becoming calm. How do you tell which ones are worth your time? Amy Jibilian, MD, CWO, and the Wellness Committee wanted to answer that question in the hopes of finding an effective resource to recommend to their clinician colleagues. The question called for the expertise of psychiatrist Susan Wiley, MD, member of Lehigh Valley Health Network’s medical staff for over 40 years and co-founder of LVHN’s Center for Mindfulness. Dr. Wiley was key in identifying and testing the Healthy Minds Program App. According to the website, it uses neuroscience, contemplative traditions, and skill-based learning methods to help users develop the skills for a healthy mind.

The following Q&A summarizes the app, the testing effort, and what the research revealed.

What led you to choose the Healthy Minds app for your pilot?

Dr. Wiley: I have great enthusiasm for, and confidence in, this app because it is scientifically based and so well researched. It was designed by Richard Davidson, PhD, a world-renowned neuroscientist and founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has been conducting research on the relationship between meditation and well-being for more than 30 years. Personally, I have been a follower of Dr. Davidson since his seminal article in 2005. In it, he expounded on his studies that showed mindfulness produced positive changes in the brain that corresponded to improvements in mood. One of these same studies demonstrated an increased immune response to the flu vaccine in the active treatment group. This is the first study I know of that so elegantly demonstrates a relationship between meditation; measurable, sustainable changes in the brain; improvement in mood; and increased immune function. In 2014, Dr. Davidson founded Healthy Minds Innovations, Inc., a nonprofit affiliated with the Center for Healthy Minds, based on a mission to translate science into tools to cultivate and measure well-being. He and his organization created the Healthy Minds app and made it available to the public for free. All of this made this app a natural choice.

VP: What’s at the core of the Healthy Minds program?

Dr. Wiley: Besides continued work on the relationship between positive mood, feelings of well-being, and different forms of meditation, Dr. Davidson’s organization also conducted research into the neural circuity of psychosocial resilience. Based on his findings, he developed four pillars of a healthy mind: awareness, insight, connection, and purpose. Dr. Davidson was able to demonstrate that these four characteristics are innate for humans just like the capacity to learn a language. However, just like learning a new language, the principles have to be practiced in order for a person to gain proficiency. His app is intended to train the user to develop these skills, starting with a 30-day foundational journey that introduces the four pillars. Each of the four pillars includes guided meditations and educational sessions. The meditations can be practiced in silence or while doing other activities, which we call “active practice.” The duration of the meditations and learning sessions can be determined by the listener and vary from 5 to 30 minutes in length.

VP: What was the objective behind the pilot?

Dr. Wiley: We wanted to ascertain whether this app would be of use in building resilience among our colleagues. We also wanted to know if they would enjoy using it and recommend it to their peers.

VP: What was involved in the pilot and what were the results?

Dr. Wiley: Thirty-six people volunteered for the introductory 30-day journey. We collected demographic information at the outset and measured participation and impressions at 30 days and 60 days. Everyone that participated said the app was easy to use and versatile. They especially liked two aspects: that you can dial in how much time you can spend, and it will give you material limited to that amount of time; and that you could listen to the meditation while in silence or when engaged in other activities. The participants universally recommended it to their colleagues. The most important result is that the app is user-friendly, helps build psychosocial resilience, and is designed with busy people in mind. And it’s available for free from your app store.

VP: Was there a downside and what did you learn from it?

Dr. Wiley: Just under a third of the participants in the pilot dropped out within the first 30 days. Those that dropped out indicated they did so, not because of the app, but because they didn’t have the time to apply themselves to the initial 30-day challenge. At the conclusion of the 30-day trial, more than half stopped using the app. Again, they said they didn’t have the time to keep practicing. So, even though we had 36 people interested in mindfulness and wanted to practice, they still could not set aside the time. This shows that even though people may be motivated, 5 minutes a day is too big a challenge for many to achieve. Ironically, when we are pressed for time, juggling daily tasks, and managing stress, is when we need mindfulness the most!

Healthy Minds app is available on mobile devices and is free.

Healthy Minds App in the Apple StoreHealthy Minds App in Google Play