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What Is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)?

Updated: May 1, 2022


What Is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a type of psychotherapy that involves a combination of cognitive therapy, meditation, and the cultivation of a present-oriented, non-judgmental attitude called "mindfulness."


Techniques

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy builds upon the principles of cognitive therapy by using techniques such as mindfulness meditation to teach people to consciously pay attention to their thoughts and feelings without placing any judgments upon them. There are a number of mindfulness techniques and exercises that are utilized as a part of MBCT.


Some of these include:

  • Meditation: People may practice guided or self-directed meditation that helps them gain a greater awareness of their body, thoughts, and breathing.

  • Body scan exercise: This involves lying down and bringing awareness and attention to different areas of the body. People usually begin at their toes and move up through the body until they reach the top of the head.

  • Mindfulness practices: Mindfulness involves become more aware of the present moment. It's something that can be practiced during meditation, but people can also incorporate these activities into the things they do every day.

  • Mindfulness stretching: This activity involves stretching mindfully to help bring awareness to both the body and mind.

  • Yoga: MBCT may also encourage people to practice different yoga poses that can help facilitate mindful stretching of the body.


People might be taught what's known as the "three minute breathing space technique," which focuses on three steps, each one minute in duration:


  1. Observing your experience (How are you doing right now?)

  2. Focusing on your breath

  3. Attending to your body and physical sensations


Other MBCT techniques include walking and sitting meditations, sitting with thoughts, and sitting with sounds.


What MBCT Can Help With

Research suggests that MBCT can be effective for helping individuals who have experienced multiple episodes of depression. While it was originally developed to treat depression, it has also been shown to be effective for other uses including:


  • Anxiety disorders

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Depression associated with medical illnesses

  • Low mood

  • Unhappiness

  • Depression-relapse prevention

  • Treatment-resistant depression


Benefits of MBCT

A primary assumption of cognitive therapy is that thoughts precede moods and that false self-beliefs lead to negative emotions such as depression. MBCT utilizes elements of cognitive therapy to help you recognize and reassess your patterns of negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts that more closely reflect reality.


This approach helps people review their thoughts without getting caught up in what could have been or might occur in the future. MBCT encourages clarity of thought and provides you the tools needed to more easily let go of negative thoughts instead of letting them feed your depression.


Much like cognitive therapy, MBCT operates on the theory that if you have a history of depression and become distressed, you are likely to return to those automatic cognitive processes that triggered a depressive episode in the past.


The combination of mindfulness and cognitive therapy is what makes MBCT so effective. Mindfulness helps you observe and identify your feelings while cognitive therapy teaches you to interrupt automatic thought processes and work through feelings in a healthy way.


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