Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Medically reviewed by Corey Pitts, MA, LCMHC, LCAS, CCS
Updated March 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based therapy are both effective treatment approaches for mental health issues. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a type of mental health treatment that typically combines principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy with mindfulness meditation. 

Reduce stress with mindfulness techniques

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can treat various mental health conditions, but it can be particularly effective in alleviating depression symptoms. It can come with many benefits, such as reduced stress, improved mood, and increased control over thoughts. You may connect with an MBCT therapist in your local area or through an online therapy platform.

What is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy?

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that typically incorporates principles of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is generally thought to be a state of being where one is present in the moment and does not judge or react to thoughts and emotions. The mindfulness practice that is emphasized in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is usually mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is thought to help practitioners understand the concept that thoughts and emotions can come and go and that "you are not your thoughts."

The other main component of MBCT is usually cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely utilized form of psychotherapy, typically used to treat anxiety disorders and depression, among other mental health challenges. CBT's guiding principle is generally that our thoughts can influence our feelings, which can influence our behavior, so to change our behavior, we must first change our thoughts. 

Combining principles of mindfulness and CBT, an MBCT therapist can effectively teach people how to prevent negative thoughts or emotions from triggering a deeper negative state, or any harmful behaviors. MBCT may alter one's thought processes so that they do not immediately have a negative emotional response to potentially triggering situations. 

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

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Recurrent depression

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

A study that looked into the efficacy of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy suggests that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is also an effective intervention for recurrent major depressive disorder.

Clinical Psychology Review findings indicate that "strategies like preventive cognitive therapy or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) applied to patients in remission safeguard against subsequent relapse and perhaps recurrence."

History of MBCT

The concept of combining mindfulness practices with traditional therapy to form MBCT was inspired by a practice known as Mindfulness-based stress reduction. Mindfulness-based stress reduction 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.  

Stress reduction 

In an article by Can J Psychiatry, the authors note how mindfulness helps train the mind to  "limit the need to manipulate emotions through evaluation, to rationally control the situation, in favor of bringing curiosity and acceptance to present moment experience." By noticing and accepting emotions and sensations in a mindful way, one may be able to reduce rumination while simultaneously learning to strengthen attentional control and increase self-compassion through sustained practice.  

Mental health professionals and web-based programs using MBCT

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy typically uses the same mindfulness principles combined with CBT to help people cope with many of the same conditions. One systematic review and meta-analysis published in Clinical Psychology Review suggests that both cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based therapy are effective in addressing depressive symptoms in adults. 

MBCT teachers employ the same format as MBSR, offering a weekly course during the span of eight weeks. However, MBCT's modified form of MBSR may bring greater awareness of negative thought patterns while increasing momentary positive emotions.

Traditionally a group intervention, MBCT has also been shown to be effective when delivered in an individual format.

Potential benefits of MBCT

Below, discover several potential benefits of this type of therapy.

Gain control over your thoughts

The Journal of Psychosomatic Research conducted 35 qualitative interviews for a randomized controlled trial examining the effectiveness of MBCT for people with unexplained medical symptoms. Results suggested that "MBCT initiated a process of change," leading to improved self-care. 

Reduce stress

Mindfulness can reduce stress because it usually 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. 

Improve mood

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 it allows people to be more tuned in to their surroundings and be more appreciative of their everyday routine and life. 

Implementing daily MBCT practices

MBCT is mostly used as a treatment for depression. Those who have episodes of major depression are usually the most likely to experience significant benefits from MBCT. This is likely because MBCT can help those who live with recurrent depression learn how to manage their feelings initially.

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 to feel a bit better when their depression does begin to impact them. It is important to note that MBCT is not the only effective treatment for depression. There can be many other treatment options available to you.

Mindfulness practices can help anyone feel more positive, relaxed, and in tune with their surroundings and the people in their lives. Some great ways to start incorporating these practices into your life may include the following:

  • Mindfulness meditation: This is one of the components frequently taught in a program, but anyone can practice meditation. 
  • Mindful eating: Most people multitask during mealtimes. Try putting down your phone, turning off the TV, and being fully present while you eat. You may notice that you taste flavors more strongly or feel fuller after your meal.
  • Switch up your routine: Most people follow the same routine every day, even visiting the same places. You might experiment with making small changes to your routine by taking a different route to work or trying a different cafe for your morning coffee. 
  • Practice three-minute breathing space: This practice asks you to: "Attend to what is" (your experience) in a nonjudgmental way; "focus on the breath" to ground you, and "attend to the body" by noticing the arising sensations as they come and go. It can be practiced in short intervals of time to help shift your attention and check in with your thoughts and emotions, allowing them to pass. 
  • Try sitting meditations, such as the ones taken by the Free Mindfulness Project. These meditations primarily focus on the breath as an anchor. 
Reduce stress with mindfulness techniques

How therapists can help

If you are experiencing depression or other mental health conditions, it can be a good idea to work with an in-person or online therapist to 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 may manage or reduce your symptoms. Online therapy can add convenience to the therapy process by making it simple to find a therapist who administers MBCT and empowering you to get professional help from the comfort of your home.

According to this study, MBCT can be effective when administered online. The 460 participants in the study generally had greater reductions in anxiety and depression symptoms, higher levels of quality of life, and higher rates of remission after undergoing online MBCT.


Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) generally combines mindfulness meditation with cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques to treat a variety of mental health conditions, especially mood disorders like depression. A few potential benefits of this type of therapy include increased control over thoughts, reduced stress, and improved mood. If you’re interested in trying MBCT for yourself, you may find a licensed therapist practicing this type of therapy in person or online. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has training in MBCT and experience guiding people in the practice of mindfulness. Take the first step toward and contact BetterHelp today.
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