Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In Memory of Alan Marlatt's Passing

For those of you who haven't heard, University of Washington professor and researcher Dr. G. Alan Marlatt passed away from melanoma on Monday (3/14/2011). He was 69. My understanding is that the diagnosis was unexpected, and Dr. Marlatt was told he had only days left to live. By report, he passed away in the company of his family.

I've previously talked about Dr. Marlatt's work with Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention here in Scientific Mindfulness. Dr. Marlatt has a 30-year history practicing mindfulness and meditation. He started by with Transcendental Meditation hoping it would help lower his blood pressure (it did), and eventually began exploring different Buddhist meditative traditions.

Even if Dr. Marlatt had never incorporated mindfulness into his research, he would be well-known for his other contributions to the study of addictions and substance abuse. He is well-known for his work on harm reduction: the notion that some people who don't want to give up alcohol entirely may learn to drink moderately. He made significant contributions towards understanding relapse.

I had a few brushes with Alan in my career. Early on in my graduate studies, I emailed him a question about problems with alcohol abuse in Buddhist teachers. Not only did he respond, but he suggested we talk about by phone! He was extremely kind and supportive during our brief chat. A year or two later, he was the discussant at a symposium I participated in. I introduced myself again but felt too shy to make an effort at engaging him, as there were others calling for his attention. Everyone I've spoken with about Alan has commented on his kindness and gentleness, an impression I shared.

Alan Marlatt will be missed. We've lost an exceptional researcher, a great contributor towards understanding mindfulness and acceptance-based treatments, and a wonderful man.

Time has a brief article on Dr. Marlatt. To check it out, click here.

For those interested in knowing more about him, Dr. Marlatt wrote a very touching portrait of his history with mindfuless that's worth tracking down:

Marlatt, G. A. (2006). Mindfulness Meditation: Reflections from a Personal Journey. Current Psychology, 25(3), 155-172.

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