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Teach Learn Med. 2016;28(2):219-28. doi: 10.1080/10401334.2016.1146605.

Mind-Body Skills Training to Improve Distress Tolerance in Medical Students: A Pilot Study.

Author information

a Department of Psychology , University of Cincinnati , Cincinnati , Ohio , USA.
b Department of Psychiatry , Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School , Boston , Massachusetts , USA.
c Department of Family and Community Medicine , University of Cincinnati , Cincinnati , Ohio , USA.



Medical students face rigorous and stressful work environments, resulting in high rates of psychological distress. However, there has been a dearth of empirical work aimed at modifying risk factors for psychopathology among this at-risk group. Distress tolerance, defined as the ability to withstand emotional distress, is one factor that may be important in promoting psychological well-being in medical students. Thus, the aim of the current mixed-methods study was (a) to describe changes in facets of distress tolerance (i.e., emotional tolerance, absorption, appraisal, regulation) for medical students who completed a mind-body skills training group, and a no-intervention control group of students; (b) to examine the relationship between changes in psychological variables and changes in distress tolerance; and (c) to report students' perceptions of the mind-body group, with an emphasis on how the group may have affected personal and professional functioning due to improvements in distress tolerance.


The mind-body program was an 11-week, 2-hour skills training group that focused on introducing, practicing, and processing mind-body skills such as biofeedback, guided imagery, relaxation, several forms of meditation (e.g., mindfulness), breathing exercises, and autogenic training.


Participants were 52 first- and second-year medical students (62.7% female, Mage = 23.45, SD = 1.51) who participated in a mind-body group or a no-intervention control group and completed self-report measures before and after the 11-week period.


Students in the mind-body group showed a modest improvement in all distress tolerance subscales over time (ΔM = .42-.53, p = .01-.03, d = .44-.53), whereas the control group showed less consistent changes across most subscales (ΔM = .11-.42, p = .10-.65, d = .01-.42). Students in the mind-body group qualitatively reported an improved ability to tolerate affective distress. Overall, improvements in psychological symptoms were associated with improvements in distress tolerance in the mind-body group but not in the control group.


These preliminary findings provide support for the notion that improving distress tolerance through mind-body skills training might serve to protect medical students from becoming functionally impaired by psychological distress. Thus, implementing mind-body skills training into medical school education may help to improve the psychological well-being of medical students. Future studies utilizing more methodologically rigorous designs are warranted.


medical students; mind–body; stress tolerance

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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