Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT): Everything You Need to Know

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a modified form of cognitive therapy that utilizes mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathing exercises.

MBCT uses:

  • Mindfulness techniques to enhance internal awareness and early recognition of maladaptive tendencies; and
  • Principles of cognitive therapy to learn how to disengage from unhealthy patterns once they’ve been recognized.

The evidence suggests that MBCT can effectively reduce anxiety and depression across a spectrum of symptom severities, and performs comparably to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).1  

Some of the issues MBCT were developed to address include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain
  • Quality of life
  • Psychological or emotional distress

Understanding Mindfulness

Mindfulness describes the habit of awareness and attention in the present moment to physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, and environment. Mindfulness is an attribute of consciousness long thought to promote mental well-being.

Although attention and awareness are normal features of cognition, the concept of mindfulness describes more than that. It’s a state of mind that features enhanced attention and awareness to a current experience or reality. Mindfulness is meant to be neither judgmental nor closed-minded; it is characterized by curiosity and receptiveness. Conversely, mindfulness is compromised by compulsive or automatic behaviors, or acting with a lack of attention or awareness to what one is doing. Mindfulness can also be blunted by rumination or preoccupation with the past as well as fantasies and anxieties regarding the future. The focus of mindfulness is the present.

A fascinating study examined the effect of a wandering mind on mood. Study participants were found to experience mind wandering 46.9% of the time. They were also found to be less happy when their minds wandered than when they were focused on the moment, present and mindful.2 This study suggests that increased mindfulness should have a positive effect on mood and happiness.

What is Cognitive Therapy?

Cognitive therapy is a form of psychological treatment shown to be effective for a wide range of mental health issues. The primary focus of cognitive therapy is to help individuals modify dysfunctional thought patterns that may contribute to maladaptive behavior or negative emotions. Learn more about cognitive therapy here.

What to Expect

             MBCT incorporates elements of cognitive therapy with mindfulness techniques during weekly 2-hour group sessions as part of an 8-week program.

Participants will typically learn mindfulness techniques as well as basic principles of cognition, such as how thinking influences emotions. MBCT uses the benefits of mindfulness techniques to help individuals discover their own thought and mood patterns, be present and appreciate small pleasures of everyday life as they occur, and maintain an open and nonjudgmental outlook on life.

Examples of MBCT Techniques:

  • Self-directed or guided meditation – Whether guided or self-directed, patients can use meditation for a greater awareness of body, thoughts, and breathing.
  • Yoga – Because yoga incorporates breathing and mindfulness techniques, this form of exercise can be used to help participants connect with their breath and bodies and practice heightened physical and spatial awareness. Another MBCT technique is “mindfulness stretching,” which involves stretching while mindfully bringing awareness to your body and mind.
  • Breathing techniques – Breathing techniques are a wonderful way to regain control when you feel anxious or stressed. For more information on breathing techniques, read our previous blog post “How Breathing Exercises Can Reduce Anxiety.” You can also read our article “5 Breathing Techniques to Reduce Anxiety” to learn specific breathing exercises that can help you reduce stress and increase mindfulness.
  • Body scanning ­– Do a body scanexercise by lying down and bringing awareness and attention to your entire body, starting with your toes and progressively working up through your body until you reach the top of your head.
  • Mindfulness practices – There are a variety of mindfulness strategies that that can be practiced, but each focus on becoming more aware in the present moment.

 Works Cited:

  1. Hofmann & Gómez, 2017
  2. Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010