Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which combines ancient wisdom with 21st century science, is proving to be a powerful tool in helping prevent relapse in depression and the after effects of trauma. It is a type of psychotherapy that involves a combination of cognitive therapy, meditation and the cultivation of mindfulness which is a present oriented non-judgmental attitude.

The word ‘mindfulness’ means compassionate and lucid awareness, a sense of knowing what is happening in the external and internal world as it is happening.  In its more common usage in recent clinical literature, it has come to mean intentionally paying attention to moment by moment events as they unfold, noticing habitual reactions to such events, often characterized by aversion or attachment, and cultivating the ability to respond to events with an attitude of open curiosity and compassion.

Mindfulness is traditionally cultivated by the practice of meditation in which people learn to pay attention to each moment with full intentionality and with friendly interest.

There are a number of mindfulness techniques that are utilized as part of MBCT including meditation, body scan exercises, mindfulness practices and yoga.  People might also be taught the ‘three minute breathing space technique’ which focuses on three steps, each one minute in duration.  Firstly, observing your experience (how are you doing right now?).  Secondly, focusing on your breath and thirdly, attending to your body and other physical sensations.


A primary assumption of cognitive therapy is that thoughts precede moods and false self-beliefs lead to negative emotions such as depression.  MBCT utilizes elements of cognitive therapy to help you recognize and reassess your patterns of stress inducing thoughts and replace them with calming thoughts.  This approach helps people review their thoughts without getting caught up in them.  The combination of mindfulness and cognitive therapy is what makes MBCT so effective.  Mindfulness helps you observe and identify your feelings while cognitive therapy teaches you to interrupt automatic thought processes and work through feelings in a healthy way.

MBCT is also helpful in managing pain, particularly with helping the body to relax and to use calming thoughts as opposed to ones that may increase the subjective experience of pain.

Research has shown that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy can be effective for helping individuals who have experienced multiple episodes of depression and has also proved to be helpful with a wide range of mental health concerns such as anxiety disorders, low mood, bipolar disorder and depression associated with medical illnesses or trauma.  However, because it is a relatively new treatment modality, the long term benefits of this approach may not yet be fully determinable and further research may provide greater support for its effectiveness when treating bipolar, eating disorders, psychosis and other conditions.

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