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 a type of therapy that uses both cognitive behavioural therapy techniques and mindfulness techniques. It was originally developed to help people who have had depression more than once. 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, which can help to stop them from causing negative feelings and behaviours.

How does it work?

MBCT uses techniques from 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 several studies on MBCT for the treatment of depression. Most of these studies have examined MBCT in addition to treatment as usual (which might include medication or regular care from a GP). Recent reviews have shown that MBCT can be helpful to prevent future depressive episodes, especially for people who have had depression more than three times. MBCT has been shown to be most beneficial when it is used in addition to other treatments.

More research is needed to understand whether MCBT is effective for people who are experiencing depression for the first time.

Are there any disadvantages?

MBCT may involve seeing a therapist weekly for several months which can be expensive. In Australia Medicare provides rebates for visits to trained therapists (see below).

Where do you get it?

MBCT is provided by therapists such as clinical psychologists, psychologists or counsellors who have been specially trained to provide this therapy (see Psychologists and other therapists). In Australia, Medicare provides rebates for visits to some therapists under the Better Access to Mental Health Care scheme. 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 is a useful treatment for people who have had repeated episodes of depression, and can be used alongside other treatment such as antidepressant medication.

Key references

  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • Hofmann SG, Gomez AF. Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 2017; 40(4): 739-49.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019