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“I feel proud we are moving forward”: safeguarding mindfulness for vulnerable student and teacher wellbeing in a community college

Leigh Burrows (School of Education, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia)

The Journal of Adult Protection

ISSN: 1466-8203

Article publication date: 13 February 2017




The purpose of this paper is to report on a study conducted for the purpose of learning more about the mindfulness experiences of college students and their teachers. To assist in developing a more inclusive approach to the teaching of mindfulness tailored to the individual needs of more vulnerable students and to inform teacher training and curriculum development.


This three-phase phenomenological study involved face-to-face and online contact with community college students and teachers involved in courses that incorporated mindfulness meditation. The findings from interviews with students in phase 1 were shared with teachers in phase 2 along with suggestions for safeguarding in phase 3 but initial results are promising as a number of safeguards have already been put into place.


This study found that mindfulness meditation is not necessarily a positive experience for vulnerable college students and their teachers and that there was a need for more teacher training, knowledge and ongoing support about the effects of some mindfulness meditations on some vulnerable students and how to adjust their intensity.

Research limitations/implications

While this is a small qualitative study, the majority of students interviewed reported unusual experiences. This this is not well known in the literature on mindfulness in higher education, and a search of the clinical literature supports the findings that significant safeguards and adjustments are needed for mindfulness meditation for vulnerable students in educational, non-clinical settings. Further research is needed.

Practical implications

An implication of this study is that mindfulness meditation in its current form is likely to be unsuitable for vulnerable students. Practical recommendations for safeguarding mindfulness in higher education are already being trialed, as mentioned in this paper and will be the subject of more extensive exploration in another paper.

Social implications

There are significant implications in these findings that the potential harmful effects of mindfulness may be overlooked and may be more commonly experienced than is currently realized especially for individuals with a history of trauma, with addictions, mental health difficulties or self-harm.


An innovation in this study is its methodology which drew out students’ and teachers’ own experience of mindfulness meditation in their own words when most mindfulness studies are quantitative and tend to focus on outcomes before understanding. In addition, the findings were presented directly to teachers making it possible to see how little they knew about their students’ experiences. This created an opening and a willingness to adopt safeguarding recommendations.



Burrows, L. (2017), "“I feel proud we are moving forward”: safeguarding mindfulness for vulnerable student and teacher wellbeing in a community college", The Journal of Adult Protection, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 33-46.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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