What is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)?
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is an empirically supported brief treatment (i. e., 8 sessions), originally developed for individuals whose negative thinking patterns make them especially vulnerable to repeated episodes of depression. MBCT teaches mindfulness skills that promote awareness and the capacity to observe experience without judgment or the need to react. Instead of focusing our resources on trying to change circumstances beyond our control, mindfulness helps us maintain perspective, remain resilient to pain, and respond effectively.
How does MBCT work?
MBCT works by both increasing awareness of your experience and reducing your reactivity to that experience such that you are less likely to be caught in a negative spiral of thinking and feeling. The focus is not on changing the content of your thoughts but on changing your relationship to your thoughts, as well as to your feelings and bodily sensations. This shift in perspective, through repeated practice in noticing and observing your entire experience with curiosity and compassion, allows you to discover that these are fleeting events in your mind and body that you can choose to engage with or not.
There is evidence supporting this change in relationship to experience: individuals who have completed MBCT show greater self-awareness, self-compassion, and less cognitive and emotional reactivity when negative thoughts and feelings arise.
What happens in MBCT?
In MBCT, you will learn specific skills to develop an awareness of the patterns of your mind, recognize changes in your experience, and learn to respond differently. This is accomplished by guided and home-based exercises that help you develop a deeper attunement to the present moment while holding an accepting, nonjudgmental stance to both positive and negative experiences.
Although our efforts to push away or control negative experiences seem to make sense, attempting to supress or avoid painful thoughts and feelings, or delve into a pattern of analysis, can maintain the problem of becoming stuck in distress. Therefore, the goal of mindfulness practice is to increase flexibility and allow a more effortless flow of experience without changing, suppressing or avoiding thoughts, emotions and sensations. Mindfulness practice can help break the old association between negative mood and the spiral of negative thinking it would normally trigger.
Those who regularly practice mindfulness learn to stay in touch with the present moment, without being driven to ruminate about the past or worry about the future. Mindfulness practice includes meditations such as focusing on your breath, mindfully noticing thoughts, and mentally scanning the body with attention to physical sensations. These practices help us build awareness of habits, recognize momentary thoughts and judgments, and develop the ability to identify in-the-moment when we are not acting in a way that is promoting healthy engagement in our lives.
Is MBCT effective?
MBCT is an evidence based treatment for individuals who experience recurrent depression. Recent research has attempted to understand the factors contributing to the effectiveness of MBCT in reducing vulnerability to depression. There is evidence that MBCT results in increased mindfulness and self-compassion, which is associated with a change in reactivity to negative thoughts after therapy has ended. Those who complete MBCT respond differently to dysfunctional thoughts such that they are less likely to become depressed in the future (Kuyken et al., 2010). Additionally, comparisons between maintenance antidepressant medication and MBCT indicate that both forms of treatment are equally effective at preventing relapse (Kuyken et al. 2008).
MBCT is an adaptation of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program by Jon Kabat-Zinn that has shown effectiveness for individuals with chronic pain, hypertension, heart disease, cancer and gastrointestinal disorders. MBCT includes aspects of cognitive therapy such as a focus on the links between thinking and feeling, and was tailored toward individuals who had experienced multiple episodes of depression. Recently MBCT has been extended to areas other than depression, such as anxiety, other mood disorders, chronic pain and fatigue, and parenting stress, with promising research outcomes.
Since being introduced in 2002, MBCT has shown effectiveness as a group treatment for relapse prevention for those with recurrent depression. The Toronto Psychology Centre is currently offering this program in an individual format for those interested in learning mindfulness skills. We are planning to offer MBCT in group format; if you are interested in our MBCT group, you can contact us to pre-register.