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North Allegheny contracts with mindfulness expert to reduce stress

May 10, 2018 ~ Access McCandless Staff

According to the Pittsburgh Business Times, North Allegheny Superintendent Dr. Robert Scherrer served as a panel member at the ‘Future of Health Care 2018’ forum held at the Pittsburgh Fairmont hotel yesterday.  The panel discussion, sponsored by both UPMC and the Pittsburgh Business Times, discussed mindfulness training and stress reduction in the workplace.  Presentations and discussions centered around the claims that mindfulness training can improve attention and boost employee performance.

Dr. Scherrer was invited to speak after the district held a training session with Joni Sturgill of Healthy Body, Peaceful Soul, LLC, a local consultant who specializes in mindfulness, yoga, nutrition and personal counseling.  The program, ‘Plugged into Mindfulness’ is designed to train teachers in mindfulness techniques so that they are “more present and relaxed” in the classroom.   In the summer of 2017, the board approved an agreement between Healthy Body, Peaceful Soul and the district to teach district educators mindfulness techniques to help them reduce stress, at a cost of $19,925. The eight-session program was offered to a group of 30 that included teachers and school counselors.

At the conference, which included a keynote speech from Dr. Barry Kerzin, the Dali Lama’s personal physician and renowned mindfulness expert, Dr. Scherrer discussed how the district brought in a corporate stress management consultant to train teachers how to help their students with stress.  In a survey conducted by the district last year, Scherrer asserted that many students experienced stress, prompting the contract with Sturgill.  Scherrer said that mindfulness gave the teachers and school counselors skills they could pass on to other students by improving connectivity to others and achieving clarity of mind.

According to the Healthy Body, Peaceful Soul website, the program offers the following:





While Scherrer obviously felt that the program expenditure was worthwhile, an article released in Psychological Science, a peer-reviewed academic journal of psychology, 15 prominent psychologists and cognitive scientists cautioned that “misinformation and poor methodology associated with past studies of mindfulness may lead public consumers to be harmed, misled, and disappointed.” They assert that despite its popularity and supposed benefits, scientific data on mindfulness are woefully lacking.”  But mindfulness training remains popular, despite a lack of scientific evidence of the benefits.

According to the National Institutes of Health, studies suggest that mindfulness practices may help people manage stress and indicate that those who practice mindfulness report an increased ability to relax.  Most studies, however, have found that mindfulness is most beneficial when combined with traditional cognitive therapy.

In a recent study conducted by the UK Department of Health in February 2018 by the Lancet, mindfulness-based interview suggested that mindfulness interventions aimed at a studen population is a “useful addition” to clinical interventions.  The vast majority of studies that found that mindfulness interventions are beneficial, but usually when combined with traditional cognitive therapies.

Mindfulness is based on elements of Buddhist traditions in which practitioners benefit from meditation to bring one’s attention to present experiences, thereby reducing stress.

While the practice is certainly not based in any type of scientific evidence, it remains a trendy concept for school districts.

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