Applying Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy to Treatment of Depression

Posted on June 12th, 2013

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered to be one of the most effective and most researched methods of treatment for stress related disorders. However, a meditation approach called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is quickly gaining more popularity in treatment of various disorders including depression. MBCT has the potential to improve one’s well-being, mindfulness, emotional regulation, positive mood, and spiritual experience while reducing stress, anxiety, and other problems. Dr. Eisendrath suggests that applying MBCT to treat depression can be a very effective approach.1

What is Mindfulness?

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn2, mindfulness can be defined as paying attention in a particular way on purpose in a present moment and non-judgmentally. Mindfulness is not a state of doing but a state of being in which you are fully aware of the present moment and do not evaluate your inner or outer environment. Mindfulness is a state of self-regulation of your attention and the ability to direct it towards breathing, eating, or something else. Curiosity, openness, and acceptance are all part of being mindful.

Applications of mindfulness include emotional problems such as stress and anxiety; behavioral problems such as eating, parenting, and addiction; disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorders; somatic problems including psoriasis, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain. Dr. Eisendrath suggests that people experience popping thoughts on the daily basis and many of these thoughts can be negative depending on the your level of stress.

To cope with negative popping throughs, you can use meditation to train yourself to become aware of your wondering thoughts and bring back your attention to the present moment. People who are depressed, often have lots of negative popping thoughts about their past. A combination of mindfulness based stress reduction and cognitive therapy has been shown to be very effective for treatment of depression.

MBCT - Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

MBCT was originally developed as a relapse prevention program to help people stay free of depression once they have fully recovered from an episode. In the study about depression treatment methods, many more people people who were treated with MBCT have stayed free of depression (about twice as many). These results were confirmed by a repeat study. Other studies have showed that the results achieved by MBCT were equivalent to the results achieved by antidepressants. Moreover, people who have bee trained in MBCT experienced less depression and significantly improved their quality of life.3

Difference Between MBCT and CBT

MBCT

  • I’m having the thought
  • Little emphasis on positive vs. negative thoughts
  • Promotes new ways of being with painful affect and challenging circumstances
  • Noticing thoughts
  • Thought process
  • Identifying thoughts as thoughts vs. states or fact
  • Noticing and allowing thoughts and feelings without fixing, changing, or avoiding
  • Way of being in the world

CBT

  • I am
  • Rigorous attention to identifying negative thoughts and beliefs
  • Promotes new way of looking at painful affect and challenging circumstances
  • Answering back
  • Thought content focused
  • Distinguishing dysfunctional and negative thoughts from healthy thoughts
  • Testing and challenging dysfunctional beliefs and inviting new interpretations

Recommended Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Program

To achieve significant positive results with the treatment of depression it is recommended to practice daily meditation for at least eight weeks. Mindfulness based meditation includes body scanning, mindfulness stretching, some elements of yoga, mindful breathing, [mindful eating][Eating a Raisin, and other daily mindful practices.

How Mindfulness Affects Depression

  • Focus on her and now
  • Selective attention - focus precisely
  • Decreased rumination (thinking deeply). Rumination is the driver of depression and not problem solving. What did I do wrong? Why did this happen?
  • Increased decentering. Distance from thoughts that are not facts
  • Enhanced self-compassion and become gentler with yourself

What is Self-Compassion

Self-Compassion means acceptance of thoughts without judgement and softening of self-criticism.

  • Buffers negative self feelings
  • Prevents being overwhelmed with negative emotions
  • Reduces negative reactions in ways that are distinct from self-esteem

Results Achieved For People Who Trained In MBCT

  • I’m gentler on myself
  • I’m less critical
  • I can talk back to myself more
  • I notice people are more interesting
  • I’m more mindful in my everyday life
  • I handle stressful events better
  • Better immune system - increased antibody response to influenza vaccine
  • Positive effect on the brain (more positive moods)

Research Findings

In the study about depression treatment methods, many more people who were treated with MBCT have stayed free of depression (about twice as many). These results were confirmed by a repeat study. Other studies have showed that the results achieved by MBCT were equivalent to the results achieved by antidepressants. Moreover, people who have been trained in MBCT experienced less depression and significantly improved their quality of life.

Conclusion

Although, MBCT requires training and time to achieve significant results, this intervention is much cheaper than antidepressants in the long-term. Unlike medication, MBCT does not have any negative side-effects and helps people improve the quality of their life, increase concentration and awareness, and respond to negative thoughts and experiences more skillfully.

Over the past decades there has been a lot of effort done towards educating people about the importance of physical exercise. Perhaps the same should be done about mindfulness based practices. The world is getting more complex and people need portable, cheap, and effective methods of stress management and coping. MBCT can be one of these methods as long as people are taught how to use mindfulness in their daily life. Problem prevention is cheaper and better than spending time and energy trying to find solutions to complex problems like depression and psychosomatic problems.

Visual Summary

Clock the image to enlarge


  1. Dr. Stuart Eisendrath, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Director of the UCSF Depression Center, explores alternatives to treating depression that include cognitive therapy and cognitive mindfulness-based therapy, a new technique that blends mindfulness meditation and cognitive therapy techniques to lessen depression, particularly in individuals with recurrent episodes. 

  2. Jon Kabat-Zinn - Professor of Medicine Emeritus and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. 

  3. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to prevent relapse in recurrent depression. 

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