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.


The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • Exclamation MarkSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

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 focused on whether MCBT can be useful for preventing future depressive episodes in people who have experienced and recovered from depression. A large number of these studies examine MBCT in addition to treatment as usual (which might include medication or regular care from a GP). Reviews of these studies have found that MBCT is beneficial for preventing future depression when it is used in addition to other treatments. A recent review has also found that MBCT can be more effective than treatment as usual to prevent future depressive episodes.

Some research has also focussed on whether MCBT is effective for people who are currently experiencing depression. A review of this research have found that MBCT may be effective for reducing symptoms of depression compared to a placebo (sham) treatment, and may reduce ‘rumination’ or repetitive negative thoughts, which are experienced by many people with depression.

More research is needed to understand whether MCBT is an effective stand-alone treatment for depression.

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.

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, or search online.


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.
  • Cladder-Micus MB, Vrijsen JN, Fest A, Spijker J, Donders ART, Becker ES, et al. Follow-up outcomes of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for patients with chronic, treatment-resistant depression. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2023; 335:410-7.
  • Hofmann SG, Gomez AF. Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 2017; 40(4):739-49.
  • Mackenzie MB, Abbott KA, Kocovski NL. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in patients with depression: Current perspectives. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2018; 14:1599-605.
  • Perestelo-Perez L, Barraca J, Peñate W, Rivero-Santana A, Alvarez-Perez Y. Mindfulness-based interventions for the treatment of depressive rumination: Systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology. 2017; 17(3):282-95.
  • Strauss C, Cavanagh K, Oliver A, Pettman D. Mindfulness-Based Interventions for People Diagnosed with a Current Episode of an Anxiety or Depressive Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials. PloS One. 2014; 9(4):e96110.

Last reviewed and updated: 11 September 2023