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The Table Video

Jeffrey M. Schwartz

How Mindfulness Treats OCD

Research Psychiatrist, UCLA School of Medicine
December 17, 2013

Research Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz (UCLA) explains how mindfulness practices effectively treat obsessive-compulsive disorder.


We discovered at UCLA, in the ’80s, That there’s a part of the brain called the Orbitofrontal Cortex, which sits right over the eye sockets, that is overactive in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In thinking about the implications of that, it became clear to me that this potentially could be a disorder in which you could study the interface between inner experience and brain function, and even more importantly investigate how people’s willful choices about how they direct their attention could be shown to change how the brain works, using what was then the very new field of brain imaging.

Based on that insight, we designed a study that compared the use of common medications of that time, [laughs] which are still, still basically the common medications that are used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, you know, about three decades later.

But using those medications and comparing them to people who receive no medication but used, essentially, this cognitive behavioral approach to treating OCD which I supplemented with this mindfulness aspect. Because already, by the ’80s, I was extremely interested in what mindfulness was and how you could apply it in clinical situations.

We were very fortunate to show in papers that were published in the late and mid ’90s that this mindfulness enhanced, cognitive behavioral therapy did in fact change how the circuitry in the brain, which is now known to underlie symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder that people were able to systematically change that brain circuitry just by using this mindfulness based, cognitive behavioral therapy for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder. [calm music]

Continue the conversation with this article from Jeffrey Schwartz.