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  • Writer's picturePsychology Today

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, MBCT, is a modified form of cognitive therapy that incorporates mindfulness practices that include present moment awareness, meditation, and breathing exercises. This therapy was formulated to address depression. Using these tools, the mindfulness-based therapist teaches a client to be in the here and now as well as break away from negative thought patterns that can cause a decline into a mood-disordered state; this therapy can help a person fight off a difficult frame of mind before it takes hold.

MBCT is derived from the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine and creator of the mindfulness-based stress reduction technique, which is often used in meditation and yoga practices. Psychologists Philip Barnard and John Teasdale contributed to this work; and later, Teasdale along with psychologists Zindel Segal and Mark Williams combined this stress reduction strategy with cognitive behavioral therapy.

When It's Used

MBCT was developed for people to prevent relapse from recurring episodes of depression or deep unhappiness. 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 in treating:

Generalized anxiety disorders

Bipolar disorder

General emotional distress


MBCT has also been shown to improve symptoms of depression in some people with physical health conditions as well, including:

Vascular disease

Traumatic brain injury

Chronic pain

In addition, MBCT has been studied in women with fibromyalgia, showing its effectiveness in reducing the impact of this chronic condition.

What to Expect

MBCT is normally conducted within a group setting, and the weekly sessions are led by a therapist. In about eight meetings, 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. You will also be encouraged to bring this present-moment awareness into your everyday routines, when you prepare a meal, as you eat, while you shower, or when you are walking.

How It Works

For a person who has recovered from a depressive state, sometimes normal sadness is a powerful trigger for relapse of depression. Rather than trying to avoid or eliminate sadness or other negative emotions, one learns to change their relationship with these emotions. Accepting sadness, for example, can be executed 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 difficult situations. In effect, you will learn that you are not your thought patterns.

By developing a routine meditation practice, clients can use the technique whenever they start to feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts. When sadness occurs and starts to bring up the usual negative associations that can trigger a relapse of depression, the client is equipped with tools that will help them replace their negative thinking with calmness, compassion, and positive action. A study from the University of Oxford showed that such mindfulness-based therapy is just as effective as antidepressant medication.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is a form of cognitive therapy that incorporates mindfulness practices that include present moment awareness, meditation, and breathing exercises.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

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