About 10 years ago, clinical psychologist Neda Gould was a postdoctoral fellow working on the Burn Unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview when she heard about a compelling new course. It focused on teaching the basics of mindfulness as a tool for reducing stress. Intrigued, Gould enrolled, hoping the tools she learned could be used to help patients with burns who were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The course was transformative for me. It allowed me to see the world in a whole different way,” says Gould today. “I’m a pretty driven, high-strung individual, but mindfulness opened my eyes to a whole new experience of living in the present moment. I now have the capability to be with my stress and work with it, as opposed to running from it.”
Gould completed the 40-hour stress reduction program created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), and subsequently earned certification to teach MBSR. Since then, she says, she’s “never looked back.”
Over the last few years, Gould has brought mindful-ness training to patients and clinicians across Johns Hopkins, including patients at the Amos Food, Body and Mind Center – and she’s seen countless lives improved through this practice. Most recently, with funding from the Center for Innovative Medicine, she’s expanded her classes to include hospital staff members at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
“Research has shown actual changes in brain structure and function following the practice of mindfulness/meditation. It’s pretty remarkable that we have the power within our minds to shift these bodily processes.”
– Clinical psychologist Neda Gould
Gould points to solid research showing that mindfulness/meditation decreases levels of stress, anxiety, depression and chronic pain. The practice has also been found to improve immune function and reduce hypertension. “Research has shown actual changes in brain structure and function following the practice of mindfulness/meditation,” says Gould. “It’s pretty remarkable that we have the power within our minds to shift these bodily processes.”
The courses she offers vary in terms of focus, format and length. Most often, participants meet for the full MBSR course for 2.5 hours a week over eight weeks. She begins in the classroom, talking about the science behind mindfulness. In subsequent sessions, she covers meditation practices, leading participants through breathing exercises, gentle movement and yoga, and walking meditation. The capstone is a full-day retreat for silent meditation.
Participation has far exceeded expectation, she says, and underscored the reality that employees at Johns Hopkins are hungry for ways to decrease stress, reduce burnout and live happier lives. Whenever a new mindfulness course is announced, she says, “my inbox is flooded by people who want to enroll.”
Until recently, enrollment was limited to university employees. In January, thanks to funding from David Hellmann and the Center for Innovative Medicine, she was able to open the course to non-university employees. The winter course, offered for free with this funding, drew a wide range of hospital employees: physical and occupational therapists, nurses, research coordinators and support staff members.
Participation has far exceeded expectation…and underscored the reality that employees at Johns Hopkins are hungry for ways to decrease stress, reduce burnout and live happier lives.
“There is so much hierarchy in the hospital system,” Gould observes. “One of the things I love about these courses is that when we come into this room, this peaceful place that is nonjudgmental, there is such a sense of equality and connectedness. It’s a magical thing to witness.”
With additional funding, Gould would love to expand her mindfulness offerings to even more Johns Hopkins clinicians and staff members. “It’s a huge gift to those who participate,” she says. “This is where my heart is, and my hope is that this becomes my full-time focus at Johns Hopkins.”