Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

What Is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a modified form of cognitive therapy that incorporates mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathing exercises. Using these tools, MBCT therapists teach clients how to break away from negative thought patterns that can cause a downward spiral into a depressed state so they will be able to fight off depression before it takes hold.

When It's Used

MBCT was developed for people with recurring episodes of depression or unhappiness, to prevent relapse. It has been proven effective in patients with major depressive disorder who have experienced at least three episodes of depression. Mindfulness-based relapse prevention may also be helpful for treating generalized anxiety disorders and addictions. MBCT has also been shown to improve symptoms of depression in some people with physical health conditions, such as vascular disease and traumatic brain injury.

What to Expect

MBCT is group therapy, with once-a-week, two-hour sessions, led by your therapist, as part of an eight-week program. You will learn meditation techniques as well as basic principles of cognition, such as the relationship between the way you think and how you feel. You will also have the opportunity to learn more about your depressive condition. On the days when there is no session, there is homework, which includes practicing breathing exercises and mindful meditation.

How It Works

Sometimes normal sadness is a powerful trigger for someone who has recovered from a depressive state to relapse into another bout of depression. Rather than try to avoid or eliminate sadness or other negative emotions, one learns to change their relationship with these emotions by practicing meditation and other mindfulness exercises. These activities rebalance neural networks, allowing the client to move away from automatic negative responses toward an understanding that there are other ways to respond to situations. By developing a routine meditation practice, clients can use the technique whenever they start to feel overwhelmed by negative emotions. When sadness occurs and starts to bring up the usual negative associations that trigger relapse of depression, the client is equipped with tools that will help them replace negative thought patterns with positive.

What to Look for in an MBCT Therapist

An MBCT therapist is a mental health professional who has additional training in mindfulness-based practices and techniques and is skilled at teaching these techniques to others. Institutions, like the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, trains and certifies MBCT teachers around the U.S. There is no formal referral service for MBCT programs or therapists. In addition to checking credentials, it is important to find an MBCT therapist with whom you feel comfortable working.

Sources

Your Guide to Mindfulness Based Therapy

Abott RA, Whear R, Rodgers LR, et al. Effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness based cognitive therapy in vascular disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. May 2014;76(5):341-351.

Piet J, Hougaard E. The effect of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for prevention of relapse in recurrent major depressive disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review. August 2011;31(6):1032-1040.