Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

8 min readJun 25, 2022

What Is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is psychotherapy that combines cognitive therapy, meditation, and mindfulness. It was, in the beginning, an 8-week program to prevent relapse for people with depression. And the program encourages patients to engage in a new way to relate to thoughts and feelings.

The 8-week program is 2-hour sessions each and introduces various meditation practices. It also incorporates cognitive therapy elements and knowledge for the patients about depression. And there is also the activity of meditating for 45 minutes daily at home.

Different from cognitive therapy, MBCT doesn’t focus on changing thought content. Instead, MBCT focuses on teaching patients how to relate to experiences through awareness. It allows patients to view thoughts without having to judge their validity. Also, the practice will enable people to disengage from their thoughts or emotions.

Benefits of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Through MBCT, the person might find greater mental clarity and self-compassion. Learning it can help to savor the moments of life as they occur by fully engaging in activities. And it can relieve anxiety by letting go of worries about the future and regretting the past.

Patients with bipolar disorder who practice mindfulness report feeling greater awareness of themselves. The patients find that mindfulness helps bring quality change to their daily lives. Also, they report mindfulness as helpful in preventing mental relapse.

MBCT also assists people with chronic tinnitus by fostering a mindset of acceptance. The process of mindfulness invites viewing events in a nonjudgmental and nonreactive way. And fifty percent of the participants reported improvement in their tinnitus distress. Also, changes in tinnitus distress connect with mindfulness and acceptance of tinnitus. It also reduces pain in patients with brain injury and increases their energy level.

Also, MBCT reduces relapse by 50% in patients with three or more episodes of depression. And it relieves the maladaptive patterns of rumination that connect with depression. And there’s growing research that it may help with OCD, panic disorders, and other issues.

A three-week study shows that learning mindfulness can improve mindset toward body image. The participants experienced less negative self-worth based on thoughts of appearance. Also, the patients learned greater self-compassion and appreciation for their body’s appearance.

Mindfulness meditation can enhance mental abilities, which include memory recall. Mindfulness meditations have an easier time screening out distractions. They also have a better memory for remembering and incorporating facts. And it is from adjusting their brain waves to the alpha wave frequency. The alpha rhythms regulate the flow of sensory information between brain regions.

Disadvantages of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

A disadvantage of MBCT is that it might not account for individual differences. For example, people with different amounts of depressive relapse episodes react differently. According to the article, it states that how well MBCT works differs from person to person. And, it seems more effective for people with a high probability of depression relapse.

Another article highlights other problems that might have affected the research results:

  • Lack of randomization
  • The small sample size
  • Lack of control groups

Another investigation also discusses risks that might exist from practicing mediation. Also, some individuals encountered troubling thoughts and feelings while practicing meditation. And meditation causes psychotic episodes for some people. But in the investigation, the groups practiced various mediation techniques. So it talked about the risk of general meditation and not mindfulness alone.

There are doubts about mindfulness therapy in contrast to other programs. It is more effective than psychological education, supportive treatment, and imagery techniques. But it states that it wasn’t more effective than other treatment forms. Their list included traditional cognitive-behavioral therapy, pharmacological treatments, or other behavioral therapy. Mindfulness therapy is only moderate to significant in effectiveness for some psychological issues.

Mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improving specific issues. Only a low effect exists to enhance the quality of life or reduce stress. The evidence was insubstantial for meditation to help with sleep, mood, or diet. And no evidence to show it is better than treatments like exercise or behavioral therapy.

The results of the studies on meditation become pretty alarming. It raises doubts about MBCT but is one technique among many other programs. Knowing the limitations allows awareness of whether MBCT proves beneficial for specific issues.

Goals of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) aims to help with psychological issues. And to complete that aim by doing two things:

  • Practicing Mindfulness: Bringing attention to the present moment.
  • Greater Self-Acceptance: Removing self-judgment, such as negative thoughts or suppressing certain emotions.

Self-acceptance isn’t giving up on challenges or other problems you might encounter. It is about letting thoughts or emotions be as they are without getting stuck in them. And through letting loose from thoughts of the past and feelings to live in the present.

By practicing mindfulness, the user attunes to the loops of negative thoughts. MBCT hopes to help patients be more aware of themselves through awareness. The attention to the negative loops brings control of negative thoughts or emotions.

MBCT programs help the clients recognize their habits of thought processes. And through MBCT helps to identify the process and create change. To recognize the patterns that are happening instead of reacting to them.

MBCT programs help the clients recognize their habits of thought processes. And through MBCT helps to identify the process and create change. To recognize the patterns that are happening instead of reacting to them. It moves people from reaction mode to habit loops into experiencing the present.

How to Do Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

MBCT combines both the practice of mindfulness and principles of cognitive therapy.

Mindfulness Meditation: The goal is to be more aware of the present moment. It is the practice of continuous awareness of thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness is paying attention to thoughts or emotions without judgment.

Three-Minute Breathing Space: There are three steps to this exercise. And each step is one minute long:

  • How am I doing right now? The first minute focuses on answering this question. Notice any feelings or thoughts that are present. It can also be any sensations that you feel in your body. What are you experiencing in thoughts, emotions, or sensations?
  • The second part is focusing your attention on your breathing. The awareness of the in-breath and out-breath can bring you into the here and now. It is as simple as focusing on breathing to anchor bach into a state of peace and calm.
  • Expand awareness from breathing to the entire body and physical sensations. As you breathe, sense your body, including your posture and the movement of each breath.

Body Scan Meditation: It is about bringing awareness to the different areas of the body. The person is often practicing the technique lying down or in a sitting position. Usually, a session would start by noticing the sensation of the feet and moving upward to the head. It is a good practice to recognize any existing tensions or aches in the body.

Mindful Stretching: Incorporating stretching as a mindfulness exercise for relaxation. The idea is to do these stretches without hurry and focus attention on each movement. You bring awareness to the body when thoughts pop out in your mind.

Daily Activities: Mindfulness can extend past the daily sessions into ongoing informal practices. For example, the person can incorporate mindful eating and mindful walking exercises. And you can practice in many activities and focus attention on the present. And you can practice mindfulness while doing homework or cleaning the house. It is as simple as being aware of what is happening in the mind and body.

  • Washing dishes
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Having a conversation
  • Writing an essay
  • Listening to music
  • Driving to work
  • Cooking dinner
  • Making your body
  • Showering

Mindful Eating: Pay attention to the food you’re eating without judgment. You can start by eating in small portions and appreciating the food. You can chew slowly and be aware of the meal at each bite.

Mindful Walking: Bring awareness to the body’s surroundings and feel each step as you move. You can start walking without being in a hurry as you pay attention to the sense. Besides sensations, you can focus on your breath. You can guide your attention back to the breath when there are thoughts.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression

The task in MBCT for combating depression is to help reduce the risk of depressive relapse. And a study shows that lowering the tendency to ruminate will decrease relapse. And MBCT was effective in reducing the habit of rumination in the experiment.

In the study, the researchers called this habit of rumination a vicious circle. They further explain that this habit of deep thinking leads to unhappy moods or patterns. Or a sad mood increases the tendency to enter the routine and create even worst symptoms.

Another thing to consider is that the dysfunctional mindset connects to depressive relapse. And the dysfunctional attitude pertains to negative or extreme assumptions about self-worth. An attitude of self-belief that revolves around meeting evaluative conditions. It could be a belief that they are not good enough until they achieve a standard of success. And often, these standards may involve interpersonal approval.

There’s a suggestion that people activate these dysfunctional attitudes in a negative mood. Research says that a dysfunctional mindset elevates when in a depressive mood. But it is dormant in vulnerable individuals until provoked into a negative mood.

A dysfunctional attitude is distinct from the process of rumination. A dysfunctional attitude is from the content inside a person’s mind. Each person has experiences or traumas that create what they think. In contrast, rumination is about the process of the mind and how the person relates to the content.

The ruminative thought process prolongs the state of depression. Focusing on symptoms and causes leads to longer depression than engaging in distraction. And ruminators with intense depressive episodes will persevere in this cognitive style. And this style of coping is ineffective for resolving the mood from stressful events. Instead, these thoughts with self-focus exacerbate and enhance the depressive symptoms. In contrast, distracted individuals in the experiment reported more optimism.

Through mindfulness, the user learns to be aware, observe, and react less to these patterns. And it is the practice of paying attention to areas like breathing, sensation, or an object. Thus, mindfulness may help decenter the person from their pattern of rumination. Mindfulness help stop the vicious cycle by distracting from the negative cognitive process.

People with depression or suicidal patients have overgeneralized or summarized memories. In contrast, people usually have both summative and descriptive details of events. Over-general recall of emotional memories is a trait foreshadowing vulnerability to depression. An MBCT experiment reduced the over-generalization of memory and increased descriptive information. But there weren’t any changes in mood scores, so the memory recall is not the cause of mood.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Anxiety

There is some information that shows that MBCT helps people to deal with anxieties. In one research, MBCT reduced the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder or GAD. People with generalized anxiety disorder experience chronic and excessive worries. The distress of people with GAD impairs their ability to socialize and work.

Both longer and shorter mindfulness practices helped patients with anxieties. And shorter methods, such as four 5-minute sessions, were more beneficial. The shorter sessions were more helpful than, the longer sessions (four 20-minute sessions). The five-minute sessions were helpful for stress, anxiety, and improving awareness.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy vs. Antidepressants

In a study, MBCT was as effective as antidepressants in reducing relapses. And when stopping taking antidepressants after MBCT, the percentage of relapse was 54%. And when combining the treatment of MBCT and antidepressants, the relapse rate was 39%.

The cost for MBCT and ADM (antidepressant medications) is the same. And 75% of the patients discontinued their practice of taking antidepressant medications. But MBCT may improve the patients’ quality of life more than ADM alone. For example, it teaches people the skill to regulate emotions instead of reacting to them. Besides greater self-control, MBCT also gives the individual a method of stress reduction.