First Do No Harm: Meditation Safety Training Description

First Do No Harm: Foundational Competencies for Working Skillfully with Meditation-Related Challenges


With Willoughby Britton, Jared Lindahl and David Treleaven

Course Details


3-Day Meditation Safety Training for MBI Providers and Clinicians


Day 1: Meditation-Related Difficulties: Research Overview

Day 1 reviews the findings from the Varieties of Contemplative Experience project, as well as related adverse effects data on mindfulness-based interventions. The training includes detailed descriptions of meditation-related challenges, including subject quotes, how often they occur, how long they last, risk factors, and the different ways they are interpreted and appraised.


Day 2: Foundational Knowledge and Skills

Day 2 focuses more on concrete steps to ensure safety for your program, and includes four modules: informed consent, screening, monitoring, and mechanism, which are described below.  This module is accompanied by access to the Meditation Safety Toolbox, which includes official curricula and implementation guidelines, informed consent, screening instruments from the UMASS, Oxford and Bangor mindfulness centers, as well as a folder of research and other resources. The Toolbox is updated monthly to stay current on new developments.
Informed Consent: This module review s the informed consent process, and is legal implications. Here we review advertising brochures, and other statement of benefits vs limitations and risks. Examples of informed consent documents, and advertisements from mindfulness programs are provided.

Screening: The screening module provides training in how to screen participants who are interested in taking an MBI program, and includes review of inclusion/exclusion criteria and decision trees for participation, and screening instruments.

Monitoring:  The monitoring module teaches facilitators how to adequately monitor or track potential adverse reactions in their mindfulness clients. Expecting the students to spontaneously report difficulties to the facilitator, a process known as “passive monitoring” is not adequate. Proper monitoring, must be active, ask specific questions, and be anonymous and non-penalizing. This module focuses on the meditation-related difficulties that are most likely to occur with MBI interventions, such as anxiety/panic, traumatic re-experiencing and dissociation.

Mechanism: The mechanism module explores the psychological and biological mechanisms of how meditation practices cause different types of experiences in different people. Examples of mechanisms include hyperarousal/sensitization and hypoarousal/dissocation.


Day 3: Management

The management module teaches facilitators how to manage difficulties once they arise, as well as modify their instructions to minimize the likelihood of adverse reactions. This module draws heavily from trauma-informed therapies, especially David’s book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness. Specific exercises and practices are provided, as well as other resources for further training about trauma informed approaches, systemic forms of trauma, and other issues related to diversity.



Willoughby Britton

Willoughby Britton PhD is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University Medical School, and the Director of  Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory.

Her clinical neuroscience research investigates the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and body in the treatment of mood disorders, trauma and other emotional disturbances. She is especially interested in practice-specific effects, and moderators of treatment outcome, or in other words “Which practices are best or worst suited for which types of people or conditions and why”.   She recently completed “The Varieties of Contemplative Experience” study which investigates the full range of experiences that can arise in the context of contemplative practices, including experiences that could be considered difficult, challenging or adverse.

As a clinician, she has been trained as an instructor in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and has taught mindfulness to both clinical and non-clinical populations. She now specializes in helping meditators who are experiencing meditation-related difficulties, and providing meditation safety trainings to providers and organizations.


Jared Lindahl

Jared Lindahl is Visiting Assistant Professor in Brown University’s Department of Religious Studies and director of the humanities research track in the Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Lab. Since 2014, Dr. Lindahl has been directing the data collection, qualitative analysis, and writing of papers for the Varieties of Contemplative Experience research project.  Jared holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. His ongoing research examines contemplative practices in a range of contexts—from classical Greece, India, and Tibet to Buddhist modernism and the mindfulness movement in the United States—and attempts to integrate historical and textual studies of contemplative traditions with phenomenological and neurobiological approaches in order to investigate the relationship between contemplative practices, resultant experiences, and culturally situated appraisals of meaning and value.

David Treleaven

David Treleaven, PhD, is a writer, educator, and trauma professional whose work focuses on the intersection of trauma, mindfulness, and social justice. He is author of the book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing (W. W. Norton, 2018) which recently debuted as a #1 New Release on Amazon. Praised by Tara Brach as “essential and fascinating reading for meditation teachers, mental health practitioners, and all those who have suffered from trauma and want to engage on a meditative path in a wise and healing way,” David supports those teaching mindfulness and meditation to offer instruction in safe and transformative ways. Trained in counseling psychology at the University of British Columbia, he received his doctorate in psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies and has been studying mindfulness for twenty years. You can learn more about him at


Additional information


Scientific articles and resources

· The Varieties of Contemplative Experience

  • Meditation Safety Toolbox


  • Meditation-related Difficulties: Research Overview Keynote speech by Dr. Willoughby Britton at the Center for Mindfulness Research and Practice Conference, Chester UK July 8th 2017


  • Varieties of Contemplative Experience- Podcast with Dan Harris from ABC news


Eligibility:The CFM course is open to anyone.