What Is Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

With one in five adults in the US diagnosed with a mental illness, many forms of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, have been developed to offer relief and professional guidance. One popular modern treatment method is mindfulness-based therapy, a research-backed psychotherapy modality that was originally developed using cognitive techniques that uses aspects of mindfulness practices and meditation.

I feel depressed and nothing seems to be working

How does mindfulness-based cognitive therapy work?

Mindfulness treatment teaches clients mindfulness techniques including how to react to their thoughts, physical sensations, environment, and relationships using present-moment techniques to reduce negative emotions and overwhelm. It can combat dissociation, anxiety, worrying thoughts, stress, and chronic pain. 

This process that incorporates mindfulness practices is commonly referred to as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), one of the mindfulness-based interventions specifically designed to treat the depressive symptoms and negative thoughts of recurrent major depressive disorder. A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials have shown that MBCT is effective in increasing the chances of symptom remission and reducing the relapse of unwanted behaviors in recurrent depression. 

Sessions involve changing how you think about yourself and your circumstances using meditative practices and other mindfulness exercises. Instead of using automatic cognitive practices to respond to events, you can cultivate mindfulness by learning to observe them. Observance, acceptance, and labeling are a few common strategies in this technique, helping individuals break negative thought patterns under the guidance of a MBCT therapist. Therapists may use sitting meditations or techniques such as engaging in a three-minute breathing space or implementing a specific breathing ritual to enhance mindfulness. 

Judgments may arise for many individuals experiencing depression or another mental health condition. Active depression or depressive episodes may increase the likelihood of responding critically to events, and self-criticism or feelings of hopelessness may occur. When clients use mindfulness-based practices, they can often objectively observe their situation and negative thoughts in their daily lives, instead of immediately judging themselves or their emotions. It can also allow them to feel centered in their bodies, reducing distressing feelings of losing control.

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Although mindfulness can be done at home on your own, a therapist can guide you through the practices and provide emotional support in a group intervention setting. In addition, you can use your session time to discuss any stressors or concerns that might be contributing to your symptoms and to engage in relapse prevention. Clinical psychology review and psychosomatic research suggest that you do not need to have depression or a mental illness to attend MBCT. These techniques, based on a modified form of the basic principles of mindfulness, may benefit anyone interested in learning them, with or without mood disorders.

Is mindfulness-based stress reduction effective?

Studies have shown that MBCT methods can produce positive results. Clients have responded to these treatments quickly, and it is often effective in treating depression. More studies on this method and others involving mindfulness may be done in the future.

If traditional counseling methods aren't beneficial for you, you might find mindfulness-based 

This modality incorporates elements of traditional CBT and can be completed in a group or one-on-one. Many clients of traditional psychotherapy report the return of depression symptoms after a certain period. However, those using MBCT report fewer relapses of symptoms or behaviors after partaking in the modality. 

If you're attending MBCT for depression, one of the main goals is fully understanding and learning about depression. A therapist can help you by delving into your symptoms and simultaneously learning about how they impact you. They can work with you to develop a greater awareness and understanding of what situations might cause symptoms to arise and how you can practice mindfulness in those moments as a prevention strategy. 

Once you have objectively examined your symptoms, you can notice when they occur and why. Mindfulness treatment can help you identify patterns between your negative and positive thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. For example, extreme self-judgment may cause harm.

I feel depressed and nothing seems to be working

Counseling options with mental health professionals

Those seeking counseling might not seek help out of fear, embarrassment, or shame. In addition, leaving home during a depressive episode can be challenging. Know there are options when it comes to your mental healthcare. Online counseling might benefit you if you're not ready to meet a mental health professional in person. 

Online counseling offers licensed professionals with the same or similar credentials as in-person therapists. The method can be more reachable, cost-effective, and flexible than traditional counseling and allows you to speak to a therapist whenever it is convenient for you to do so. In addition, studies on online mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) found that internet-based interventions were as effective as in-person counseling for treating symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Signing up for a platform like BetterHelp can take a few minutes, and you'll receive a therapist match within 48 hours or less. In addition, you can meet with a provider specializing in your specific symptoms or preferred form of mental health treatment, including those who practice MBCT. Treatment may include six to eight weeks of sessions where a therapist may provide you with a weekly course of mindfulness techniques to try. Your session may end with a helpful report detailing the different techniques and when to use them. 


MBCT teaches clients how to use the practice of mindfulness to target symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses and symptoms. Mindfulness can involve tactics like deep breathing, sensory awareness, and grounding. If you're interested in trying mindfulness counseling, consider reaching out to a therapist in your area or online to get started.

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