Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy

Our rating
 2 smilies: This treatment is useful. It is supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.

What is it?

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is aimed to help people who have had depression more than once. MBCT combines both mindfulness practices and traditional cognitive therapy. It is based on the theory that certain thoughts can cause feelings and behaviours which can make depression worse. MBCT helps people to recognise these thoughts as they happen. A person can then prevent these thoughts from causing negative feelings and behaviours.

How does it work?

MBCT uses meditation and cognitive therapy to overcome negative thinking. MBCT does not try to change negative thinking patterns like other cognitive therapies. Instead, MBCT teaches people how to overcome negative thoughts through self-awareness (or mindfulness). Mindfulness helps people to see negative thinking patterns as passing thoughts, instead of ways that control how people feel and behave.

Is it effective?

There are a number of studies on MBCT. Most of these studies have examined MBCT in addition to treatment as usual (which might be medication or regular care from a GP). Recent reviews have shown that MBCT can be helpful to prevent future depressive episodes in people who have had depression more than 3 times. MBCT has been shown to be most beneficial when it is used in addition to other treatments. One review found that MBCT was effective in reducing current depression symptoms. However, this benefit was not found in all studies so more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of MBCT as a treatment for current depression.

Are there any disadvantages?

None known.

Where do you get it?

MBCT is most often taught in a program of 8 weekly group classes. Ask your GP or a psychologist for a program available near you.

Recommendation

MBCT can help to prevent relapses of depression. MBCT is effective when used as an additional treatment for people who have had repeated episodes of depression.

Key references

  • Galante J, Iribarren SJ, Pearce PF. Effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Research in Nursing. 2012; 18: 133–155. 
  • Clarke K, Mayo-Wilson E, Kenny J, Pilling S. Can non-pharmacological interventions prevent relapse in adults who have recovered from depression? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clinical psychology review. 2015; 39: 58-70.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 December 2016