- Jon Kabat-Zinn has trademarked MBSR, legally restricting the use by others of the acronym for Mindfulness Based Stress-Reduction without his licensing.
- Trademarking a treatment is unusual but can be worth millions in the multi-billion dollar business of mindfulness.
- The mindfulness industry is increasingly dominated by vertical monopolies in which entrepreneurs dictate the need for mindfulness products and who can deliver them. Trademarking is a key tool in doing this.
- Jon Kabat-Zinn’s trademarking of MBSR allows him to dictate its use in training drone pilots to be more effective in their airstrikes and to experience less guilt and PTSD. If you think this is an outrageous statement, read on.
Trademarking of acronyms for therapeutic interventions is highly unusual and usually undertaken to protect commercialization. Francine Shapiro attracted considerable negative attention when she trademarked EMDR.
What we can learn from the trademarking of EMDR
EMDR is a four letter acronym that stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. This four-letter combination is trademarked much like 3M or Coca Cola are trademarked. The actual therapeutic modalities involved in EMDR cannot be trademarked. (You can trademark a name but not a surgery!)
EMDR has generated a great deal of controversy since its inception in 1989. Shapiro was criticized for repeatedly increasing the length and expense of training and certification, allegedly in response to the results of controlled trials that cast doubt on EMDR’s efficacy. This included requiring the completion of an EMDR training program in order to be qualified to administer EMDR properly, after researchers using the initial written instructions found no difference between control no-eye-movement control groups and EMDR-as-written experimental groups. Further changes in training requirements and/or the definition of EMDR included requiring level II training when researchers with level I training still found no difference between eye-movement experimental groups and no-eye-movement controls and deeming “alternate forms of bilateral stimulation” (such as finger-tapping) as variants of EMDR by the time a study found no difference between EMDR and a finger-tapping control group. Such changes in definition and training for EMDR have been described as “ad hoc moves [made] when confronted by embarrassing data” 
Dependence on unregulated certificates for credibility and marketing
Many persons, perhaps most, who seek training in psychotherapy or mindfulness do not have protected titles like clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. If they want to advertise as a counselor or therapist or mindfulness trainer, they cannot point to any licensure. They can advertise certification or having studied with so and so, which is not regulated.
Marketers selling a training in a trademarked treatment have to be careful to avoid legal action:
In our certification classes we refer to this as REM so it is clear that we are not implying that we are teaching EMDR. We teach it a bit differently than the EMDR “sect” does! EMDR/REM is a protocol of hypnotic-like processes, which can be fairly useful in many cases.
The brilliant marketing strategy of Jon Kabat-Zinn
Jon Kabat-Zinn has carved out an unusual, if not unique brand. He advertises his pedigree of having been trained by Buddhists, but denies that what is offering is in any way religious.
Kabat-Zinn was first introduced to meditation by Philip Kapleau, a Zen missionary who came to speak at MIT while Kabat-Zinn was a student. Kabat-Zinn went on to study meditation with other Buddhist teachers such as Thích Nhất Hạnh and Seung Sahn. He also studied at the Insight Meditation Society and eventually also taught there. In 1979 he founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he adapted the Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and developed the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program. He subsequently renamed the structured eight-week course Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). He removed the Buddhist framework and eventually downplayed any connection between mindfulness and Buddhism, instead putting MBSR in a scientific context. He subsequently also founded the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His secular technique, which combines meditation and Hatha yoga, has since spread worldwide. The course aims to help patients cope with stress, pain, and illness by using what is called “moment-to-moment awareness.”
Kabat-Zinn was born Jewish but has stated that his beliefs growing up were a fusion of science and art. Although he has been “trained in Buddhism and espouses its principles,” he rejects the label of “Buddhist,” preferring to “apply mindfulness within a scientific rather than a religious frame.”
The branding of what Jon Kabat-Zinn offers is that it is science rooted in Buddhism. He can require weekend silent retreats for certification. There is no evidence that such retreats improve skills of mindfulness practitioners or the outcomes with patients that they achieve. Retreats are a spiritual, not an evidence-based practice.
But there is an intense competition among mindfulness trainers for bragging rights about how many weekends of silence they have endured on their journey to become what they are marketing.
The place of trademarking in the vertical monopoly of mindfulness entrepreneurship.
Mindfulness is a multi-billion dollar business and trademarking can be worth many millions.
Increasingly, mindfulness is dominated by vertical integration or vertical monopolies. Promoters offering product occupy key positions on governmental and quasi-governmental committees defining the need for mindfulness products and controlling who is authorized to deliver trainings and direct services. Witness Mindful Nation UK Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group. The Oxford Mindfulness Centre had a key role in writing this report and offers products, including mindfulness retreats required to receive monies.
Trademarking MSBR can control the lucrative market of mindfulness training of drone pilots
Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of three Buddhists advising the US Department of Defense in the training of drone pilots to be more focused in their drone strikes and more inoculated against guilt and PTSD that might arise, particularly with the inevitable deaths of civilians.
In a talk to the military:
The beauty of the mental training is that you can do it all day long,” said Kabat-Zinn. “You can bring awareness to everything you are doing. And then, the whole day in some sense becomes your mental training, becomes your mindfulness practice … It’s something virtually all human beings can do. It’s not luxury to practice mindfulness. It’s absolutely a necessity.”
Note that the following description of the DoD training program incorporates “Buddhist mindfulness based stress reduction courses.” Using an acronym introduces Jon Kabat Zinn’s trademark, ‘Buddhist MBSR courses.’
There are publicity photographs of marines sitting cross-legged practising meditation and equanimity with a rifle slung over their back, ready for use. Army psychologists believe that mindfulness and meditation will reduce Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for soldiers who kill or maim men, women and children or witness fellow soldiers being killed or maimed or suffer personal terror or anguish in the killing fields. The US military believe that their version of the Buddhist mindfulness based stress reduction courses can help make soldiers and drone pilots relax and stay immune from the emotional impact of their actions to kill and harm people.
Military intelligence officer, Elizabeth Stanley wrote a paper for the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), stating that the meditation practises of Buddhist monks were necessary for drone pilots coping with information overload and for soldiers on the ground.
The MMFT website states that the course is designed to “improve resilience and mission effectiveness in other high-stress environments.”
Drone pilots in Nevada use their mindfulness training to stay focussed hour after hour, through the drones’ cameras, on Muslims visible outdoors, occupants in cars and on the streets. When they believe they have spotted their target(s) they press the Death Button besides the keyboard of Death TV.
Jon Kabat-Zinn can insist that it is vitally important for trainers to get prepared in his trademarked MBSR. Accept no substitutes.