"I’m empowered to look after myself” — Mindfulness as a way to manage chronic pain: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of participant experiences in Scotland

Fathima Marikar Bawa* (Corresponding Author), Jane W Sutton, Stewart W. Mercer, Christine M Bond

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background and Primary Aim: Chronic pain is a common problem that can impact on psychological and social wellbeing and activity levels. Despite pharmacological treatments, there is often a lack of improvement in physical and emotional functioning and health-related quality of life. Mindfulness meditation has become an increasingly popular self-management technique. The aim of the study was to explore the experiences of patients with chronic pain who took part in a mindfulness programme. Methods: A mixed-methods feasibility study was carried out. Participants were aged 18 years or over with non- malignant chronic pain recruited from general medical practices in Fort William, Scotland. In 2013 participants undertook an eight-week mindfulness programme based on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and were interviewed immediately post-programme and at eight-months’ post-programme. Analysis of qualitative data involved Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Findings: Thirty-four patients consented to take part in the study; twenty-four took part in the programme (14 attended four or more sessions, 10 attended one to three). Twenty-three were interviewed. Participant experi-ences of the programme were themed under: factors affecting experience (influence of earlier life events; the process of taking part in, and of relating to, the programme); and effects of the programme (impact on emotions, mental health, adverse events and a process of change). The process of change, resulting after better under-standing the relationship between mindfulness and pain, involved learning to ‘listen to the body’, gaining a sense of community, learning to accept pain, and approaching life with more self-care, awareness, appreciation and empowerment. Conclusion: Participants reported a variety of experiences. For some, these included undergoing a process of change which may have supported them in living with their painful condition. This contributes to our under-standing of how mindfulness could benefit people with chronic pain.
Original languageEnglish
Article number114073
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date25 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to acknowledge NHS Highland Research and Development department for providing an endowment fund that supported study postage and transcription costs. We would like to thank the qualitative researcher Gerry King who gave guidance in qualitative interviewing, and NHS clinical psychologists Dr Sheelagh Rodgers who conducted the pre-programme interviews and facilitated the mindfulness programme and Dr Mariyana Schoultz who co-facilitated the mindfulness programme. We would also like to thank the NRS Primary Care Research Network who conducted the computer searches of patient records, and GPs of Tweeddale and Glen Mor Medical Practices in Fort William who conducted screening for patient eligibility. We would like to thank Hazel Riley for the time spent transcribing the interview recordings. And we would like to give special thanks to the participants who took part in the study.


  • Chronic pain
  • Mindfulness
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction
  • Interpretative phenomenological analysis
  • Participant experiences
  • Pain management
  • Process of change
  • Pain coping


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