Following COVID-19 related delays to a launch earlier in 2022, the successful Mindfulness Based Chemsex Recovery (MBCR) programme we launched in May 2019 in Soho, with 2020 and 2021’s follow up courses, held online due to COVID-19 restrictions, returns this year to in person at St. Anne’s Church, Dean Street, Soho from October 9th, 2022. The course will take place over 4 half day retreats (12:30pm – 4:30pm, Sundays, October 9th & 23rd, November 6th & 13th, 2022).
Spectra’s former mental health lead Ben Hoff, and outreach worker Bex Freeman who developed and co-facilitated the programme, were interviewed to give more background on the service, here’s what they had to say…
Hi Ben & Bex, so what’s Mindfulness Based Chemsex Recovery?
Mindfulness Based Chemsex Recovery (MBCR) is an intensive recovery programme for men who feel that their sexualised use of chems, alcohol and other substances is negatively impacting on their lives and want to exercise greater choice over their use of chems or stop using altogether. It’s funded by Public Health England’s HIV Innovation Fund and is open to gay, bisexual and trans men, and men who have sex with men.
Why has SPECTRA chosen to develop MBCR?
BEN: We want to share the benefits mindfulness practice can bring to what is a real and substantial problem for many of the people we work with. Mindfulness-based approaches (MBAs) have the advantage of being delivered in a supportive, group format and help participants build the foundations of a practice that potentially can support them for the rest of their lives. We want to build on the excellent evidence base that exists for MBAs and develop an adapted model that serves this need in our community. We see MBCR as complimenting other excellent high-intensity interventions offered by 56 Dean Street and Antidote.
What is mindfulness anyway?
BEX: Mindfulness is simply a quality of awareness that anchors us to the present moment, with openness, acceptance and curiosity. And we develop that attention through the practice of focussed attention in the form of meditation which can be include breath awareness, body awareness, mindfulness movement and mindful compassion. We’re then able to carry that awareness through to our lives more generally.
Please feel welcome, if you wish, to share widely with your networks these audio guidance meditation sessions below, along with the above course flyer, to help us raise awareness of this initiative within the community:
Look out for more audio meditation guidances which we will be adding here.
Back to the interview:
Okay, I’m with you so far…but why practice it?
BEN: Well the human brain has evolved to help us survive as a species, but not to make us very happy. We’re able to do a lot of stuff on autopilot (breathing, walking, eating) freeing up brain space to focus on other things but we miss a lot of life in the process. Our brain also has an inherent negativity bias and a deft ability to calculate threat. The downside is that a triggering event can cause us to spin stories about what might happen next causing us unnecessary worry and anxiety. By interrupting our autopilot and anchoring us to the present, mindfulness helps us experience life more consciously and vividly. We then respond rather than react to life’s inevitable curveballs and stay with what’s happening now (rather than what might happen), minimising anxiety about the future.
How does this help with issues around chemsex?
BEX: Addictive or compulsive behaviours (and that’s usually what chemsex has
become for somebody who’s seeking help) also operate on autopilot. I mean let’s face it, life can throw us a lot of curveballs. It can also be exhilarating. And much of the time fairly boring and unremarkable. We all have our ways of coping with this and sex, drugs and alcohol historically have been three of our favourites. When conscious choice dissolves into a habit, we feel compelled to satisfy our cravings at any cost and lose the ability to stop and ask ourselves: ‘Is this actually what I want or need in this moment?’ Mindful awareness helps us create a space to pause, step back and make a choice about what we do next. And when we rediscover choice, we rediscover our power and freedom.
What’s the evidence base for MBCR?
BEN: MBCR is an adapted version of the original Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention model. It draws on the wisdom of thousands of years of meditative tradition and combines them with contemporary approaches from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and relapse prevention. A 2017 research meta-analysis (W. Li et al.) found in virtually all studies mindfulness treatments were associated with superior substance misuse treatment outcomes, reducing craving and enhancing abstinence at follow-up compared to standard cognitive behavioural therapy and relapse prevention.
So who’s the course aimed at?
BEX: There’s no specific entry ‘criteria’ – we’ll consider every person individually. If we feel that a different form of support might be more suitable then we can discuss other options.
What if I don’t want to stop chems completely?
BEN: ‘Recovery’ will mean different things to different people – total abstinence for some, reducing to recreational use for others. In mindfulness practice, we meet ourselves where we’re at. We do invite participants not to use for the six-week duration of the course so they can engage in and experience the benefits of the course more fully. But lapses happen, and that’s okay, it’s an opportunity to pause and ask ourselves: ‘and what do I want to do next?’.
How did you both come to train as mindfulness teachers?
BEN: I’ve practised meditation on and off for about 20 years, but it was only really in my late 20s I started to practice consistently as a way of supporting myself through a very difficult period in my life. When I came through it, I decided to train so I could share what I’d learned with other people.
Could you say something brief about your journey Bex?
BEX: I have always had and will always have a strong hedonistic streak.
And also fortunately a deep motivation to look after my own health and wellbeing! Mindfulness approaches have helped me balance these in that feels right for me. And the practice has gradually changed my relationship to myself in a way which is both more compassionate and more truthful…I m kinder to myself! At a certain point it just seemed obvious to want to share these benefits so I did a postgraduate qualification in teaching Mindfulness Based Approaches at the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice.
Who are SPECTRA?
BEN: SPECTRA works to improve the choices, health and well-being of people like your readers. We work with all people, often from diverse and marginalised
communities, empowering positive, informed choices about health, including sexual health, emotional resilience and wellbeing, and working to combat isolation and risk. We provide supportive, knowledgeable, non-judgemental services which are all peer led, meaning they are delivered by people from the communities we work with themselves.
How do people sign up and what can they expect?
BEN: Mindfulness is a set of practices which lead to experiences. These experiences are felt in the body and sensed by the mind and the heart. So, we encourage people to be curious and try it for themselves. You can still register for a place on one of the courses. The courses will take the form of four half-day Sunday retreats two weeks apart, with daily home practice, and an online session between retreats for people to check in with each other.
For more details email email@example.com or call 0800 587 8302.
*The 4 week course is free with a refundable £25 ( £10 concessions) deposit on completion of the course and evaluation.
In 2019, Spectra received funding from PHE’s HIV Innovation Fund to deliver a high-intensity, group-based intervention called Mindfulness-Based Chemsex Recovery (MBCR). The programme worked with men struggling with chemsex addiction to support their treatment gains and maintain ongoing recovery and well being.
Click on Download to get a full copy of the report:
In addition, in 2020, Spectra received funding from the London Community Response Fund to provide a course online during the COVID_19 restrictions.