Adverse effects following meditation: A qualitative study

Student thesis: Master thesis (including HD thesis)

  • Simon Filbert Brorsen
4. term, Psychology, Master (Master Programme)
Despite numerous benefits of practicing meditation, there is a growing concern about its pos-sible detrimental effects. This master’s thesis investigates meditation-related experiences that are typically underreported, particularly experiences that are described as challenging, diffi-cult, distressing, and/or functionally impairing. This is done by using semi-structured inter-views to collect phenomenological data, by using interpretative phenomenological analysis to code transcriptions, and by employing a qualitative assessment of causality.

This study shows a great variation associated with adverse meditative effects between the interviewed meditators. Initially, the experiences are closely linked to the specific effects they experience and to what extent. The experience is also associated with preexisting symptoms that have potentially been exacerbated through developing adverse effects. To an extended degree, the two seem to be experienced in combination, and circumstances are thought to influence the experience associated with adverse effects following meditation too. These in-clude the meditative purpose, psychological conflicts, meditation experience, the type of meditation practiced, as well as the conditions for the emergence and the ability to reduce specific effects. In addition, there might be a variety of biological, psychological, familial, social, and cultural factors that influence the experienced phenomena.

This study concludes that adverse meditative effects are primarily associated with excessive or intense meditation. In this regard there seems to be a greater frequency of adverse effects following meditation retreats or prolonged stays. The variation in meditation emergent reac-tions seems to follow a non-monotonous inverted U-curve, where positive effects eventually reach a point of inflection and become negative. Thus, meditators must regulate their practices with the dual aim of gaining optimal benefits and avoiding negative outcomes, as adverse effects seem to be reduced through discontinuation.
In contrast, the effects seem to continue and potentially worsen through continuation. Indi-vidual meditations are presumed not to be sufficient to develop a psychopathology. However, with long-term meditation that consistently results in adverse effects, the adverse effects seem to take on a more psychopathological character, where they are only slowly and gradual-ly reduced, even if the practice in question is discontinued. Aids and maintenance factors identified in the study are believed to have greatly influenced how and to what extent ad-verse effects of meditation have developed.
Publication date2021
Number of pages75
ID: 434873289