Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Updated July 21, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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Therapy can be a life-changing addition to one's life. Whether it be individual talk therapy, art therapy, or family and marriage therapy, therapy can help those struggling with a range of conditions, like anxiety or recurrent depression, or those simply looking to improve their life. In today's social media-dominated world, more people are opening up online about their struggles with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions and what they have found that helps them cope. Mindfulness frequently comes up in these discussions as a way to improve one's mental health and overall happiness. For those looking to improve their automatic cognitive process with therapy and also are interested in mindfulness, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) may be the way to go.

What Is MBCT?

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that incorporates principles of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of being, where one is fully present in the moment and does not judge or react to their thoughts and emotions. The mindfulness practice that is emphasized in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is thought to help practitioners understand the concept that thoughts and emotions come and go and that "you are not your thoughts."

The other main component of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely utilized form of psychotherapy, typically used to treat anxiety disorders and depression. It focuses on the relationship between one's thoughts, feelings, and behavior, with an ultimate goal of changing behavior. The guiding principle of CBT is that our thoughts influence our feelings which influence our behavior, so to change our behavior, we must first change our thoughts. The behavioral element of CBT also makes it an effective treatment for conditions such as eating disorders and substance use disorders.

Combining the principles of mindfulness and CBT, a MBCT therapist effectively teach people how to prevent negative thoughts or emotions from triggering a deeper negative state or any harmful behaviors. The mindfulness principles and practices, such as meditation, taught during Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy sessions helps clients change their relationship with these potential triggers. They then can experience negative thoughts without letting them majorly influence their emotions and behaviors. It helps alter one's thought process so that they do not immediately have a negative emotional response to potentially triggering situations.

Rather, they understand that there are alternative ways to respond to these situations and process their emotions. For example, meditation and deep breathing are effective tools that one can implement in stressful situations or when depressive thoughts do occur. Learning these alternative strategies to handle thoughts can prevent potentially triggering thoughts from evolving into a deep depressive state or harmful behavior.

The combination of traditional CBT with mindfulness practices helps people break free from their negative thought patterns and learn strategies to manage their depression or anxiety symptoms.

History Of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy

The concept of combining mindfulness practices with traditional therapy to form Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy was inspired by a practice known as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBSR was introduced by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 and has helped countless people since. Kabat-Zinn developed the program after studying under Buddhist teachers who taught him about Eastern philosophies, including mindfulness. He combined these teachings with his knowledge of Western medicine and psychology to develop MBSR. He first tested the program on hospital patients in chronic pain who were not responding to medication. He taught the patients mindfulness practices in a group setting in hopes that mindfulness could help them see the pain from a different perspective and endure less from it.

Kabat-Zinn's expectations turned out to be correct. Patients responded positively to the program, and Kabat-Zinn now teaches MBSR around the world. It is also the basis of treatment at his Stress Reduction Clinic within the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Though the first group to try MBSR were chronic pain patients, MBSR can help people with many other struggles learn to view their problems from a more objective standpoint. They will then have less of a strong reaction to their problems, and thus endure less from them. MBSR has effectively helped people cope with pain, stress, depression, anxiety, and more. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy uses the same mindfulness principles, combined with CBT, to help people cope with many of the same conditions.

The Benefits Of MBCT

Control Over Your Thoughts

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy makes an impact on patients' lives each day by teaching them how to understand their thought processes and patterns better. This makes it easier to recognize the thoughts and signs that might lead someone down a negative path and to prevent it from happening.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy promotes living more mindfully in general, not just during therapy sessions or while practicing meditation. This can help people get out of their heads and connect with the world around them, which can make it less likely for them to spiral down into a dark place when negative thoughts do come up. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy practitioners are more likely to be able to manage their negative or depressive thoughts and ultimately let them go rather than letting the thoughts evolve into a deeper depression or harmful behavior.

Stress Reduction

Along with meditation, another one of the mindfulness practices emphasized in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is deep breathing. Deep breathing can calm the nervous system in stressful situations, which will help practitioners resist the natural urge to react in those situations instantly.

Mindfulness can also reduce stress because it helps practitioners become more aware of the present moment and the world around them, which can spark a greater appreciation for life and lead them to reevaluate their priorities. Additionally, when living in the present moment, one is not thinking about past mistakes or future obligations. Both of these factors combined can make Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and general mindfulness practitioners feel less stressed in everyday life and respond better to stressful situations.

Improved Mood

Both cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness practices have been shown to improve mood and help people who have depression. Even those who do not have depression can benefit from Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy by learning how to stop minor feelings of sadness or an unfortunate incident from turning into a deeper state of unhappiness.

When practiced regularly, mindfulness can help some people feel more connected to their purpose in life, thus staving off feelings of worthlessness or feeling lost. This may be because mindfulness allows people to be more tuned to their surroundings and be more appreciative of their everyday routine and life. When paying attention to what is happening rather than allowing ourselves to be distracted, either by our thoughts or externally, we not only appreciate things more but notice our impact on the world more than we otherwise would. Mindfulness has also been shown to develop parts of the brain that decrease anxiety and increase feelings of positivity.

Trying MBCT

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is most commonly used as a treatment for depression. Those who have episodes of major depression are the most likely to experience significant benefit from Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. This is likely because MBCT helps those who live with depression learn how to manage their feelings at the first sign of depression. This helps them know how to get out of their thoughts and prevent the depressive feelings from turning into a major depressive episode.

Additionally, implementing practices like meditation can help prevent feelings of depression from getting deeper. It can serve as a strategy for those who live with depression feel a bit better when their depression does hit. It is important to note that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is not the only effective treatment for depression. Many people do benefit from psychiatric medication, and more traditional forms of psychotherapy are also effective depression treatments. Please consult with your doctor or primary care physician before considering any medication options.

Even those who do not live with active depression or mood disorders can benefit from general mindfulness practices, if not Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. In today's world, many people experience some levels of stress, anxiety, or depressive thoughts. Mindfulness practices can help everyone feel more positive, relaxed, and in-tune with their surroundings and the people in their life. Some great ways to start incorporating mindfulness and meditative practices into your life include the following:

  • Mindfulness Meditation: This is one of the components taught in a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy or MBCT program, but anyone can practice mindfulness meditation. Meditation can help facilitate greater awareness and nonjudgment in everyday life. It can also be combined with stretching for an even more self-aware practice. If you are new to meditation, try a free guided meditation online or with an app that can facilitate mindful stretching – yoga poses can also help.
  • Mindful Eating: Most people today multitask during mealtimes. Try putting down the phone, turning off the TV, and being fully present while you eat to cultivate mindfulness. You may notice that you taste flavors more strongly or feel fuller after your meal. Mindful eating is a good way to start practicing mindfulness in a small way while demonstrating the benefits it can have when implemented in other areas of life.
  • Switch Up Your Routine: Most people follow the same routine every day, even visiting the same places. Experiment with making small changes to your routine by taking a different route to work or trying a different cafe for your morning coffee. New experiences and environments naturally make you more present and aware of your surroundings, making it easy to be mindful.

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How Therapists Help

If you are dealing with depression or other mental health conditions, it is always a good idea to work with an in-person or online therapist to help manage your condition. An MBCT therapist can help you become more aware of your negative cognitive processes and teach you techniques to retrain your mind that will help manage and reduce your symptoms.

Online therapy has been shown to be especially effective in CBT. Evidence has shown that online therapy is slightly better than face-to-face therapy for this type of treatment. In a literature review of 17 studies on the effectiveness of online CBT or eCBT when contrasted with traditional therapy, it was found that eCBT was better at reducing the symptoms of depression and other mood disorders. It was also noted that eCBT could be less expensive than face-to-face therapy. Online therapy for CBT can also be used effectively for other mental health conditions. Plus, research shows that mindfulness helps boost mental health in a number of ways. People with PTSD, eating disorders, and anxiety have found relief through this type of treatment.

How BetterHelp Can Support You

Despite its many benefits, mindfulness on its own is not the solution if you do experience depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. In those cases, consider working with a BetterHelp online MBCT therapist or counselor. They can help you develop a treatment plan to address negative thought patterns and behaviors by replacing them with positive ones. You can meet with your therapist in the comfort of your own home without having the stress of driving to an office. You’ll also be able to meet at a time that’s convenient for you. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

Since I started working with Rainer she has given me a different perspective on how to handle work related stress and how to deal with others at work.She has also given me Ideas on getting a better night sleep such as no tv 1 hour brfore bed.Doing a Yoga Nidra to learn to completely relax before bed and in my last session she did a guided meditation with me which is something I haven't experienced since Covid started.She makes it very easy to understand the points she is trying to make to get me where I need to be to reduce stress in my life.

Brittney has really helped me understand my thought process, she also lets me talk and then will explain to me what made me feel that way. I’ve never had that. She’s awesome! 

All people can benefit in some way from incorporating mindfulness practices into their life. If you have yet to experiment with mindfulness, give one of the above strategies a try. There is nothing to lose by trying to be a bit more mindful.

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