“Meditation can have a positive impact on people with chronic pain”

Conferences at the Cité des sciences

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A doctor by training, Sylvie Besson teaches yoga and uses “mindfulness meditation” to treat patients. For her, this practice can help prevent relapses.

Release, partner of the cycle of conferences “What is life?” (from September 2022 to January 2023) organized by the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie, will regularly offer articles, interviews and forums on the topics covered. To be continued, November 15 at 6 p.m., on site or by video, the conference of Steven Laureys, neurologist, author of Meditation is good for the brain.

Sylvie Besson is a doctor in the “pain” consultation at the Mutual Wisdom Clinic in Rennes. For ten years, she has passed on her practice of mindfulness meditation to her patients. A demanding but effective eight-week program.

How did you start practicing meditation in your healthcare facility?

I have been meditating for twenty-three years and I have discovered through medical articles that this practice can have a positive impact on people suffering from chronic pain. Meditation brought me so many things in my life that I really wanted to share this discipline and apply it in my work at the hospital. I first followed a university degree in Strasbourg “medicine, meditation and neurosciences”, the year of its creation. We were 50 caregivers, psychologists, nurses, doctors of different specialties. This reassured me: before this training, I thought I was a little lonely… Twenty years ago, we were considered strange beings when we talked about meditation! I then trained in Switzerland to become an instructor in cognitive therapy based on mindfulness, in order to be able to pass on my turn in the hospital environment.

Did your healthcare facility immediately support your approach?

Nope ! There was a lot of reluctance at the start but thanks to a change of team, I was able to set up meditation initiation cycles. Today, I have been training patients at the Clinique de la Sagesse in Rennes for ten years. For the past year, I have also been working at the Max-Querrien hospital in Paimpol. There has been a surge of scientific publications on the benefits of meditation, and media coverage has helped us a lot as doctors to be able to offer this practice in healthcare settings. Today, it is more and more widespread and caregivers can train much more easily than before.

How is the training program going?

It lasts eight weeks, with weekly two-hour workshops and personal practice of forty-five minutes a day for the duration of the training. It’s a very strong commitment for the participants, so I talk to each person to find out their motivations and explain how demanding it is. During each session, there is a time for meditation and an exchange on what this practice teaches us, what are the difficult moments… The patients leave with “homework”, it is also a question of integrating meditation into their daily life . Walking, peeling vegetables or eating mindfully, for example. It is only through sustained experience that real changes can be observed. Several studies have shown that after eight weeks of training, there are differences in brain function. It’s as if meditation is part of our nervous system.

Which groups of patients do you offer meditation to?

I apply this program to all people who suffer from chronic illnesses: respiratory failure, Lyme disease, stress at work, depression… These illnesses represent stress that you have to live with. It is in the context of depressive syndromes that the effects of mindfulness meditation have been most frequently evaluated. This practice prevents relapses as well as antidepressants.

You have ten years of experience: what have you observed on the patients?

At first they are surprised, sometimes frustrated. The program is a lot of work and sometimes they feel like not much is happening… It’s often halfway through that the changes kick in. There can be profound transformations in their way of perceiving what they are going through. Recently, a patient who has experienced many, many depressive episodes in her life told me that through meditation she had rediscovered a small flame, a long-forgotten joie de vivre. This could be seen in his smile, the gleam in his eyes. It is extremely powerful.

After the training, do the patients continue their meditation practice?

For some, the program marked a turning point in their lives and they continue. Others have stopped completely, training for them was only one episode. Between these two extremes, there are all the nuances. Some patients go back to it when they feel the need. In Paimpol, we offer once a month a boost session for people who want to continue practicing together.

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“Meditation can have a positive impact on people with chronic pain”

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