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Willem Kuyken

PhD, DClinPsy


Ritblat Professor of Mindfulness and Psychological Science

  • Principal Investigator, University of Oxford Mindfulness Research Centre
  • Director, University of Oxford Mindfulness Research Centre

A world without the devastating effects of depression, where people enjoy mental health and well-being across the lifespan and are resourced to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

My 2024 book, due to be published in September 2024

An average life, around the world as of 2020, lasts 72 years, 4,000 weeks, or 26,000 days. What does it mean to live well? To be the change we want to see in the world. Mindfulness offers the keys to unlock a life well lived, to being the change we desire, to living in alignment with our values, amidst life's inevitable challenges. It can cultivate clarity, balance, and wisdom, enabling us to align our actions and values. We learn not only to live with awareness and purpose, but also navigate the everyday. More than this, it is a call to action, a reminder that each moment holds the potential for change, growth, and connection, and to rise to the challenges we’re all facing in the 21st century. Mindfulness for Life: Emphasizes the lifelong integration and practical application of mindfulness across various stages, transitions and challenges of life, Offers a blend of ancient wisdom and modern psychological insights, - Is accessible and engaging, using storytelling with relatable characters and real-life scenarios, - Provides tools to transform mindfulness practice into a sustainable, everyday habits, reinforcing the idea that mindfulness is not just a temporary fix but a profound, long-term approach to living well. - Focuses beyond the individual to support mindfulness in families, schools and workplaces. Pre-order direct from the publisher, Guilford Press (print and e-book), or at your favourite online bookseller, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, eBooks.com, and Google Play Books.

Profile

Research focus

Depression is a global health crisis affecting around one billion people worldwideMost mental health issues begin in late adolescence and often persist throughout life. Alarmingly, mental health conditions are worsening, particularly among young people.

In response to the depression crisis, a global wellness industry worth around $6 trillion has burgeoned. However, this industry often fails to deliver meaningful, sustainable results because it doesn’t use the best psychological science nor engage the people who need help the most.  

At Oxford, we have pioneered cognitive and mindfulness-based therapies to treat and prevent depression with demonstrated effectiveness. The drawback is that these proven therapies can only be delivered by highly trained specialists, and therefore can only be a small part of the solution. In developed countries, only one in five people have access to treatment and this drops to one in 27 people in low-and middle-income countries. This is simply not good enough. To help solve the global challenge of depression, we need to find ways to give more people access to effective treatments.

A vision for 2050. Proven methods with wide scale availability 

Our vision is for a world where individuals flourish, free from the devastating impacts of depression. The Mindfulness for Life approach draws on ancient wisdom and modern psychology to:

  • Teach lifelong skills for managing daily challenges effectively.
  • Promote resilience, social connectivity, and purpose-driven living, in individuals and families, schools, workplaces, and communities.
  • Offer learning that is accessible, engaging, and inclusive.

The forthcoming Mindfulness for Life book lays out this programme in 12 chapters, enriched with case studies, practical advice, and guided exercises. Support for mindfulness educators and practitioners is available through a dedicated training manual and a comprehensive website. This enables the program to be adapted to different life stages and circumstances offering relevant guidance from foundational skills to more comprehensive programs. 

Over more than 25 years my work has focused on depression and evidence-based psychological approaches to depression. My work is moving towards exploring global health approaches to preventing depression and promoting mental health and well-being. Can we develop psychological approaches that are accessible, effective, scaleable and implementable? That can support people to meet the challenges of the 21st century. 

Google Scholar publications 

I have supervised and mentored more than 60 graduate students, many of whom have gone on to productive careers in research, teaching and the health service. My research has been supported by the National Institute for Health Research, Wellcome Trust, Economic and Social Research Council, NHS, Oxford Mindfulness Foundation, the Sir John Ritblat Family Foundation, Medical Research Council and British Academy.

Public engagement

Science is not only about developing new knowledge but also about using that knowledge in ways that are beneficial; taking responsibility for communicating science in balanced and effective ways. I regularly give keynotes and workshops on MBCT and compassion for a range of organisations. These have included national associations (e.g., Australia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, United States), public and third sector organisations (UK National Health Service, schools), as well as policy and governmental groups (e.g. Cumberland Lodge, UK All Party Parliamentary Groups).  My work has been covered in numerous media outlets including Nature, Scientific AmericanTimes Educational SupplementCBS, MaccleansNew Statesman, Le Monde, der Zeit,  the Telegraph, the Guardian, the BBC and many others. I am privileged to work with a range of groups who are skilled in public engagement, including the National Mental Elf, Present Moment podcasts,  Voices from Oxford,  science programmes such as Trust Me I'm a Doctor., and blogs sites such as the Huffington Post.

 

Brief biography

I am a research clinical psychologist. I earned my PhD from the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, and my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the Salomon's Clinical Psychology Training Programme. I learned cognitive-behavioural therapy over two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Cognitive Therapy, University of Pennsylvania / Beck Institute, working with Aaron T. Beck. Since the mid-1990s, my training in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has included: participation in MBCT/MBSR workshops and retreats; supervision with John Teasdale, Trish Bartley and others; and support of my mindfulness practice in the insight/vipassana tradition from Christina Feldman and Catherine McGee. 

From 1999 to 2014, I worked at the University of Exeter, where I held a number of roles including heading up the doctoral clinical psychology training programme (2001-2004) and leading the clinical research group (2001-2010). During my time in Exeter, I co-founded the Mood Disorders Centre, directing it through its formative years (2004-2012) and co-founded (with Alison Evans) the Masters in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapies (2008). Since 2014 I have directed the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. I was awarded the May Davidson award for clinical psychologists who "have made an outstanding contribution to the development of clinical psychology within the first ten years of their work as a qualified clinical psychologist." I was "grand-fathereded" as a Fellow of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy.

You can read more at my Wikipedia page.

 

Declaration of Interest Statement

I am the Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, a collaboration between the University of Oxford and not-for-profit charity, the Oxford Mindfulness Foundation. From 20214 to 2022, I was responsible for the leadership of the Oxford Mindfulness Foundation. I was until 2015 an unpaid Director of the Mindfulness Network Community Interest Company. I receive royalties for several books on mindfulness and CBT published by Guilford Press. Since arriving in Oxford (2014) I have either donated any payments for training workshops and presentations to not-for-profit organisations aligned to my work or used them to fund my research work.I have advised and consulted various groups on an unpaid basis (evidence to the UK Mindfulness All Party Parliamentary Group).

My research has been funded by NIHR, Wellcome, MRC, ESRC, British Academy and the Oxford Mindfulness Foundation. 

The Ritblat Professor of Mindfulness and Psychological Science is a Chair endowed by the University of Oxford and the Sir John Ritblat Family Foundation.

My 2019 book with Christina Feldman

There has been an explosion of interest in mindfulness and its applications in the last twenty years. This book provides a much-needed map and route plan for anyone learning mindfulness and is an invaluable tool for those teaching or training to teach mindfulness. It brings together psychological science and early Buddhist teachings to help us better understand the nature of distress so that we can bring suffering to an end. More than this, it considers how people can flourish in the midst of the challenges of the contemporary world. When ancient and modern ideas of mindfulness come together they are no longer a set of ideas or practices but an illumination that guides us to be more present in our lives, with ourselves and with others, with clarity, kindness and ease. Order direct from the publisher, Guilford Press (print and e-book), or at your favourite online bookseller, including Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, eBooks.com, and Google Play Books.

My 1999 book with Christine Padesky and Rob Dudley

Presenting an innovative framework for tailoring cognitive-behavioral interventions to each client's needs, this accessible book is packed with practical pointers and sample dialogues. Step by step, the authors show how to collaborate with clients to develop and test conceptualizations that illuminate personal strengths as well as problems, and that deepen in explanatory power as treatment progresses. An extended case illustration demonstrates the three-stage conceptualization process over the entire course of therapy with a multiproblem client. The approach emphasizes building resilience and coping while decreasing psychological distress. Special features include self-assessment checklists and learning exercises to help therapists build their conceptualization skills. Order direct from the publisher, Guilford Press (print and e-book), or at your favorite online bookseller, including Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, eBooks.com, and Google Play Books