Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy: Practicing Mindfulness With A Professional

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated June 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

There are hundreds of therapeutic modalities in the world that therapists can employ to help people achieve their desired mental health outcomes, and each person may respond differently to each method. Some modalities are focused on treating specific symptoms or conditions, but each can be used in unique ways according to the individual. 

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a type of cognitive therapy focused on utilizing mindfulness, often used to treat depressive disorders. However, it can also be used to help people experiencing a variety of other mental health challenges, including anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). If you have been looking for a way to increase mindfulness in your life and decrease symptoms of depression or anxiety, you may find MBCT to be an effective option. 

Embrace mindfulness with an experienced professional

What is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy? 

MBCT takes elements of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a popular form of treatment often considered the “gold standard” of talk therapy. Developed to treat recurrent major depressive disorder, it can be used to treat various conditions, including anxiety disorders. The goals of MBCT often include the following: 

  • Reduce symptoms of mental illness
  • Adopt a new way of thinking
  • Grow awareness of one’s senses and feelings
  • Place less emphasis on changing one’s feelings in the moment 
  • Regulate emotions by relaxing the nervous system through mindfulness
  • Cultivate a healthy mindfulness practice 

You don’t have to have a mental illness to try MBCT; often, it is used for chronic unhappiness or mood challenges. MBCT may help you use meditative practices to change your attitudes and beliefs that may hinder growth. 

How is mindfulness used in therapy? 

When you first meet with your MBCT therapist, you may answer some questions led by the provider about your goals for treatment and any prior diagnosis you may have been given. Your therapist can then guide you in creating a treatment plan, which may involve specific mindfulness activities and practices unique to your needs. 

For example, if you have experienced a traumatic event. In that case, your therapist might help you learn mindfulness associated with sensory awareness to understand the physical sensations you have that are related to this trauma. If you’re experiencing panic attacks, your therapist may guide you in specific breathing exercises to use during these attacks. If you’re attending therapy to learn more about mindfulness, you can explore various skills with your therapist. 

How is MBCT different from CBT? 

MBCT is based on an eight-week program called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. MBSR involves mindfulness to reduce chronic pain, mental illness, and hypertension. MBCT was developed to include these teachings in a CBT-like environment, but MBCT and CBT have some differences.; however, it is not CBT. 

The difference between these two treatment formats is that MBCT takes a mindfulness-oriented approach. Although a CBT therapist might use mindfulness to help clients with their treatment goals, their focus may be on what’s best for them, which could involve coping mechanisms, like worksheets, exposure, or identifying negative emotions and negative thoughts to help a person replace them with more accurate thoughts that lead to a client wants to change.  

Both CBT and MBCT can help clients focus on their thoughts and feelings and change maladaptive beliefs and negative thought patterns. In addition, these changes may reduce unwanted behaviors or patterns in an individual’s life. To know which modality suits you, consult a therapist for further guidance. 

MBCT mindfulness exercises you might encounter during therapy

Mental health professionals commonly use several mindfulness techniques to help individuals get accustomed to mindfulness practices at home. The following are some techniques you might encounter in MBCT, including but not limited to the following. 


Visualization may help clients visualize a safe space they can go to when their emotions feel overwhelming. It mightThis might be a beach, a beautiful mountain top, or another serene place. , or under the sea. You can use your creativity to imagine this place and all the people, animals, and scenery inside of it. 

Visualization can also be used to visualize goals and manifest your future. Surveys have found that visualization works. Imagining yourself achieving your goals exactly as you want to may bring confidence, optimism, and hope. In turn, those positive emotions may help you achieve your goals more efficiently than if you were feeling pessimistic or giving up on them. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

Present moment awareness

Present moment awarenessPresent moment awareness is another mindfulness technique focused on noticing the sensations in your body, the sounds around you, how you feel, and the thoughts that pass through your mind. 

Instead of thinking of the future or the past, you focus on the present moment while letting thoughts move through your mind without judgment. This awareness exercise can be challenging to grasp at first, but it may be possible with practice and professional guidance from your therapist. 

Breathing exercises

Research found deep diaphragmatic breathing can increase attention, reduce stress, and improve mental health. You can try several breathing exercises, but one popular option is box breathing. To start box breathing, follow these steps for four seconds each: 

  1. Breathe in for five counts.
  2. Hold your breath. 
  3. Breathe out for six counts.
  4. Hold your breath. 

Repeat until you feel yourself start to regulate. 

Box breathing can be simple but allows you to focus on your breathing more intently, as you must hold your breath before taking another. 


Meditative practices are a type of mindfulness. There are hundreds of ways to meditate, but your therapist may lead you in a guided meditation. 

Guided meditations involve your therapist telling you how to breathe, what to think of, and what part of your body to focus on. This type of meditation may help you focus if you’re a beginner to mindfulness, as you can follow your therapist’s instructions instead of letting your mind wander. In addition, you may experience increased self-compassion and improved overall health with guided meditation. 

Body scan

Body scanning involves mindfulness focused on one body part at a time. You may start by relaxing your toes and moving your focus to your whole foot, then to your legs. You can practice this exercise until you reach the top of your head. Some people find body scanning beneficial for sleeping if they have insomnia or racing thoughts at night. 

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) 

PNF is a stretching technique that may improve mood and motion simultaneously. MBCT sometimes includes this method to help individuals connect with their bodies and reduce tension. A clinical psychology review of psychosomatic published in the Journal of Human Kinetics has proven that PNF can improve muscle elasticity and reduce tension in the body. 

Yoga and Asana 

Yoga is a practice that often combines meditation, deep breathing, and physical movement to improve mental and physical health. Many people use yoga and asana (physical movements and poses) to cope with depression. An MBCT therapist may guide you in some yoga practices or suggest local yoga classes or retreats to get started. Doing simple yoga practices at home can also be beneficial. 

What can MBCT treat? 

MBCT was first developed to treat treatment-resistant or long-term recurring depressive disorders. However, it has since been used to treat multiple conditions, including but not limited to the following: 

Talk to an MBCT therapist in your area to see where they specialize. Each therapist may have a unique way of using MBCT, so find someone with experience treating your condition or concerns.

Counseling options 

When you search for a therapist, it may be helpful to ask if they practice MBCT and what techniques they tend to employ. If you can’t find someone in your area, you may find that it’s easier to locate an online therapist who practices MBCT.

Facing barriers to treatment can make it challenging to find a mindfulness-based therapist. In some areas, like rural cities, there may not be an MBCT therapist available. In these cases, you may be able to find mindfulness therapists through a platform like BetterHelp

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Embrace mindfulness with an experienced professional

With an online therapy platform, you can set your goals when signing up and get matched with a provider with experience in your symptoms and goals. Be matched with a therapist who practices MBCT and has experience treating the specific concerns you’re facing. You can also note if you’d like to meet with someone who has been credentialed in MBCT. With online therapy, you can meet with a therapist from home or anywhere you have an internet connection. You can also contact your therapist in between sessions through in-app messaging, and they’ll respond as soon as they can. By meeting with a therapist online, you can receive worksheets and resources at home and practice mindfulness as you go. This may be helpful if you have questions or concerns about MBCT in between sessions.

Online therapy has been shown to be effective for a variety of mental health concerns. One study published in 2018 found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy online could effectively treat anxiety and depression in participants seeking stress reduction. and was as effective as face-to-face therapy methods. 


Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a unique form of treatment treatment that focuses on present-moment awareness, meditation, and mindfulness in daily life. Alongside CBT techniques, this method can offer comprehensive support to clients with mental illness, chronic stress, or other concerns. 

If you are experiencing distressing symptoms of a mental illness or you are going through challenging times that require you to be present and composed, you may benefit from MBCT. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed online therapist who practices MBCT, and you can usually start therapy within 72 hours. Take the first step toward getting help with MBCT and reach out to BetterHelp today. Know that online therapy offers a safe space to share your emotions, ask questions, and access resources. To start learning mindfulness-based practices on your terms, reach out to an experienced and empathetic licensed counselor at BetterHelp.

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