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Research shows benefits of yoga combined with psychotherapy

Published: 09 January 2023

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A female in a yoga pose face down on a yoga mat

Research study reveals that yoga is a mind-body technique that can be used to aid emotion regulation, alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve overall wellbeing. 

The use of mind-body interventions, such as yoga, to treat mental health issues has become increasingly common over the last few decades. Dr Jasmine Childs-Fegredo, Senior Lecturer in Counselling Psychology at York St John University, has led a research study to pilot the acceptability and feasibility of a yoga-integrated psychotherapy (YiP) intervention, aimed at alleviating difficulties in emotion dysregulation. The study also sought to explore the perceived effectiveness of YiP in easing depression, anxiety and improving overall wellbeing. 

The inclusion criteria for participants were that they believed that a psychological intervention may be of benefit to them, and they scored significantly on the Difficulties in Emotion Dysregulation Scale (DERS) at an assessment interview. The DERS is a multidimensional assessment tool which looks at emotion regulation and dysregulation; a higher score pointing to greater emotion dysregulation. 

Dr Childs-Fegredo, a Counselling Psychologist and Yoga practitioner, led weekly one-hour YiP intervention sessions over six weeks. During each session, the participant would take part in 30 minutes of yoga practice followed by 30 minutes of talking therapy. Participants completed self-report measures in each session to quantify the effects of each YiP session on emotion regulation, well-being, depression and anxiety. Following the conclusion of the YiP sessions, participants completed qualitative follow-up interviews to explore subjective experiences of YiP and any perceived impacts. 

The results of the study revealed that participants’ emotion regulation abilities and wellbeing scores were significantly higher at both mid and end-points, than at the start of the study. Data highlighted reductions in various symptoms, such as flashbacks, feeling anxious and becoming easily irritated. Five themes were also identified: “YiP assists the client’s psychological and emotional processing,” “YiP improves insight and focus,” “YiP is culturally sensitive,” “the body facilitates regulation and resilience” and “YiP is acceptable and impactful.” 

Commenting on the success of the study Dr Childs-Fegredo said, “This is a really encouraging start to integrating the practice of yoga into psychological therapy to help alleviate mental health issues. As a clinician, I think it’s rare to hear of life-changing outcomes for clients in six sessions, but this study had clients saying exactly that. I am looking forward to taking this to the next phase.” 

Descriptions of participants’ experiences study were gathered as part of the qualitative data collection process. One participant described the intervention as, “ in the sense that…a different perspective has given to me…my eating habits are different…the way I look at the world is different.” Reinforcing the transformational nature of the therapy, another participant commented, “you come in…knowing that in therapy we talk about very hard issues. And there is a tension in your body. That tension…especially in the last part, the relaxing part [of the yoga practice]…goes away.” 

Dr Childs-Fegredo is seeking grant funding to write a training manual for the intervention, so that clinicians can be trained to deliver YiP. Future studies will hope to test effectiveness of the intervention using randomised control trial methodologies.   

The research study was published in December 2022 and can be accessed on the Wiley online library

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