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Perceptions of Mindfulness in a Low-Income, Primarily African American Treatment-Seeking Sample


Individuals with low socioeconomic status (SES) and members of racial/ethnic minority groups often experience profound disparities in mental health and physical well-being. Mindfulness-based interventions show promise for improving mood and health behaviors in higher-SES and non-Latino White populations. However, research is needed to explore what types of adaptations, if any, are needed to best support underserved populations. This study used qualitative methods to gain information about (a) perceptions of mindfulness, (b) experiences with meditation, (c) barriers to practicing mindfulness, and (d) recommendations for tailoring mindfulness-based interventions in a low-income, primarily African American treatment-seeking sample. Eight focus groups were conducted with 32 adults (16 men and 16 women) currently receiving services at a community mental health center. Most participants (91%) were African American. Focus group data were transcribed and analyzed using NVivo 10. A team of coders reviewed the transcripts to identify salient themes. Relevant themes included beliefs that mindfulness practice might improve mental health (e.g., managing stress and anger more effectively) and physical health (e.g., improving sleep and chronic pain, promoting healthier behaviors). Participants also discussed ways in which mindfulness might be consistent with, and even enhance, their religious and spiritual practices. Results could be helpful in tailoring mindfulness-based treatments to optimize feasibility and effectiveness for low-SES adults receiving mental health services.

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The authors would like to thank staff members of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington (especially Karen Ostlie, Vicki Barnes, and Wilhelmina Swenholt) for facilitating recruitment of focus group participants. We are grateful to the study participants for making this research possible by providing their time, effort, and insightful comments.

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Authors and Affiliations



CAS: designed and executed the study, led focus groups, conducted qualitative coding, and wrote the paper. SCH and WPB: collaborated with the design of the study, implementation of focus groups, qualitative coding, and manuscript writing. SB, DSH, and RP: collaborated with the design of the study, interview guide development, and manuscript writing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Claire Adams Spears.

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Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This study was approved by the university’s Institutional Review Board and was conducted in accordance with the ethical standards in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments.

Informed Consent

All participants gave their informed consent prior to their inclusion in the study.


This work was supported by funds from The Catholic University of America (CUA) and was conducted while the first author was at CUA. Research reported in this publication was also supported by the National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number K23 AT008442. Dr. Hoover was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse under award number K23 DA040933. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Spears, C.A., Houchins, S.C., Bamatter, W.P. et al. Perceptions of Mindfulness in a Low-Income, Primarily African American Treatment-Seeking Sample. Mindfulness 8, 1532–1543 (2017).

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  • Mindfulness-based interventions
  • Racial/ethnic minorities
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Qualitative research