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Why meditation apps offer little therapeutic benefit 

We've all seen meditation and mindfulness apps on the app store. For a professional teacher of Stillness Meditation (SMT), this divergence of meditation into technology is a troubling trend.

In a study conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, less than 1 per cent of 10,000 meditation apps were found to be professionally evaluated.

In 2012, a Mayo Clinic study found that online medical resources gave correct triage advice only 58 per cent of the time.

I'm a strong believer in the power of meditation to improve mental health and quality of life having had my own life almost unbelievably transformed many years ago – all due to a highly personalised style of meditation. And as a meditation teacher with long-term experience, I don't believe that apps and online resources are the way to go if people seriously want to discover positive life development.

Control over our mind is a powerful tool when it comes to therapy and healing and meditation, in clinical circumstances, has been shown to lower anxiety and alleviate pain. It's important to acknowledge, however, that any health issue addressed in this way requires therapy that is supported by professional training and experience.  

In my experience the use of apps offer little or no actual therapeutic benefit, despite the fact that these imply they can be the be all and end all of meditation. Such false promises may well create disappointment and potentially a culture of failure to add to existing negativity when these shortcut applications prove ineffective, especially for people with compelling mental health issues.

The meditation I choose and teach – Stillness Meditation Therapy (SMT) –  is based on medical knowledge rather than the usual traditional meditation teaching. This unique approach emphasises personal contact in this healing environment and those who teach it undergo lengthy training to attain accreditation. Such teachers must be trained in order to work with their clients. 

This emphasis fulfils two important teaching components. Firstly, it ensures that patients have access to a teacher who will comprehensively understand and support them, and provides reassurance that they aren't alone in their efforts to deal with the challenges they face. And as warmth, empathy, and human contact are extremely important to the effectiveness of this meditative therapy, SMT would be 'sold short' if reduced to an online service. 

Secondly, the medical foundation of SMT means it carries a clear set of guidelines. Unlike the current proliferation of mindfulness methods, SMT has a clear therapeutic purpose and distinct method.

Unfortunately 'mindfulness' has become a catch word and many who claim the ability to teach this are in fact quite inexperienced with very scant training. 

Further concerns surrounding this explosion of interest in 'mindfulness' returns to my first comment – the rise of unregulated apps purporting to have some therapeutic value. While maybe this technological approach could serve as an introduction to a certain level of meditative practice, I cannot accept any significant benefit that takes place in this way. 

We can readily recognise today the widespread problems surrounding mental health. SMT was created in 1960's by world renowned psychiatrist Ainslie Meares, who introduced this specifically to address those very issues and in doing so, brought the concept of therapeutic meditation to western society. It's important to present the reminder that his work remains unique and the trigger for others to attempt similar practices, usually based upon traditional and philosophical methods and very often without the deep understanding of how and why SMT can repeatedly bring successful results to health and wellness.


Pauline McKinnon is a best selling author, a qualified stillness meditation therapist, the director of the Melbourne Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre, and Founding Patron of Meditation Australia.

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain