Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Mindfulness meditation training for spiritual struggles: A randomized controlled trial

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Kenneth Pargament (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Casey Cromwell (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Annette Mahoney (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Amy Morgan (Committee Member)


A growing literature demonstrates that spiritual struggles can have significant long-term negative consequences for psychological and medical adjustment (Abu-Raiya, Pargament, Krause, & Ironson, in press; Exline, 2013), making these struggles a potentially important target for intervention. A primary purpose of this study was to test the efficacy of one possibly crucial component of existing interventions for spiritual struggles—mindfulness training. A secondary aim of this study was to examine the incremental utility of explicitly addressing spiritual struggles and spiritual resources within a mindfulness intervention.

In the present study, 62 college students reporting modest levels of spiritual struggles were randomly assigned to a control condition or one of three online, month-long intervention conditions—mindfulness meditation training (M), mindfulness meditation training with spiritual content (MS), and progressive muscle relaxation training (PMR). Outcomes were assessed before and after the intervention, and again a month later. Results from 46 study-completers indicated that the M condition experienced greater improvements in somatic distress and spiritual growth relative to other conditions, though evidence for greater diminishment of spiritual struggles specifically was tenuous. Results failed to support the superior efficacy of the MS condition over other conditions. On the contrary, the M condition experienced greater improvements in outcomes relative to the MS condition.

These results extend prior research supporting the efficacy of mindfulness in promoting improved psychological functioning in a range of populations (e.g. Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt & Walach, 2004) and are consistent with a growing number of studies reporting that mindfulness training leads to improvements in spiritual functioning (e.g., Carmody, Reed, Kristeller & Merriam, 2008; Oman, Shapiro, Thoresen, Flinders, Driskill, & Plante, 2007). These results also suggest that caution should be used when explicitly addressing spirituality in brief mindfulness training for individuals struggling spiritually.