Integra Mindfulness Martial Arts Program™

Integra Mindfulness Martial Arts™ is a group treatment program for adolescents with mental health issues and/or learning disabilities (LD). It is offered by the Integra Program at the Child Development Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, and was developed in 2002 by Paul Badali, a Registered Social Worker at Integra.

Adolescents with a variety of conditions, including but not limited to ADHD, anxiety, depression, and oppositional defiant disorder are treated together in the same martial arts class. Each class has eight students and is led by a trained child and family therapist, who is also qualified in meditation and martial arts.

The goal is to improve problem-solving skills and social, emotional well-being by allowing students to experience and then integrate distress in a structured, social environment. The approach weaves mindfulness, cognitive therapy, and behavioral therapy into mixed martial arts training. The martial arts framework promotes engagement in therapy for those who would not normally be interested in conventional talk therapy. It also builds self-confidence in body and mind by teaching students how to behave in a challenging environment. This strengthens awareness and control of the fight, flight or freeze response (an instinctive, midbrain reaction that happens under stress or trauma).

According to its website, studies on the program have shown results in “reduced externalizing behaviour (e.g., aggression) in youth with ADHD+LD compared to a waitlist control (Haydicky, Weiner, Badali, Ducharme, & Milligan, 2012); decreased self-reported anxiety in youth with LD + anxiety compared to a waitlist control (Haydicky, Weiner, Badali, Ducharme, & Milligan, 2012); significant gains on EEG indices of attention compared to a waitlist control (Sibalis et al., in press; Milligan et al., submitted); significant gains in secondary control and realistic thinking compared to a waitlist control (Milligan et al., 2017)” (Ryerson University Child Self-Regulation Laboratory, 2019).

The course consists of 90-minute sessions, once a week for 20 weeks. To date, more than 450 youth have gone through the program.