A Randomized Controlled Trial of Yoga with Incarcerated Females

Jun 7, 2021

swr cover croppedMental health and substance abuse challenges are widespread among incarcerated populations, often coupled with complicated histories of abuse, trauma, and other psychological problems. Traditional treatments have largely consisted of psychological or pharmaceutical interventions. However, the implementation, effectiveness, and financial burden of traditional interventions have led to exploration into alternative approaches.

A recent issue of the journal Social Work Research, co-published by NASW Press and Oxford University Press, reveals findings on a study of an alternative intervention for the incarcerated.

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a six-week yoga intervention on body dissociation, emotion regulation, and signs of substance relapse among incarcerated females. Participants were assigned to an intervention group, therapeutic community, or general population control group. This study conceptualized body awareness and emotional regulation as mechanisms of change and hypothesized that improvements in these constructs would ultimately lead to improved signs of substance use relapse scores as compared with the wait-listed control and comparison groups.

An analysis of covariance revealed significant differences in warnings of relapse (p < .01), emotion regulation (p < .01), and body dissociation (p < .05). Paired samples t tests revealed significant change from pre- to posttest for the intervention group across all outcome variables. Findings suggest that yoga may be an effective integrative treatment for mental health and substance use challenges among incarcerated females.


Study authors:

  • Samantha Willy-Gravley, LCSW, clinical therapist, Mirasol Eating Disorder Treatment Center, Tucson, AZ.
  • James Beauchemin, PhD, assistant professor, School of Social Work, Boise State University, Boise, ID.
  • Phyllis Pirie, PhD, professor, College of Public Health, Ohio State University, Columbus.
  • Alexandra Gomes, MSW, research associate, Boise State University, Boise, ID.
  • Elizabeth Klein, PhD, associate professor, College of Public Health, Ohio State University, Columbus.


The journal Social Work is a benefit of NASW membership. It is available online or, at a member’s request, in print. Children & Schools, Health & Social Work and Social Work Research are available by subscription at a discounted rate for NASW members, either online or in print. You can find out more about the journals and subscriptions at this link.

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