What Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Can Do For You

It’s normal to wake up on the wrong side of the bed from time to time. Have you ever noticed that when you’re not feeling all that well emotionally, you’re more likely to think in a way that makes your mood worse? For example: “I can’t face this day”, “I don’t have what it takes” or “There’s no point getting out of bed”.

Furthermore, our daily lives are often so frantically busy that we fail to stop and observe what’s actually happening inside our minds and bodies. We run on autopilot, in other words. Before we know it, we’re caught up in a frantic cycle of goal-directed behavior, stress, exhaustion and negative emotional states. But it’s possible to break this harmful cycle. Read on to learn more.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy: What is it?

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy was developed to help people improve their emotional wellbeing by becoming more aware of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are linked to unhappiness and mental illness. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is an amalgam of two existing treatment models:

1. Cognitive Therapy (CT)

CT was developed in the 1960s by the pioneering psychologist Aaron Beck. CT aims to change harmful thinking patterns that underlie many psychological disorders. Since the 1960s, much research has been done on CT and it is often seen as the gold standard for treating depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.

2. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is not a form of therapy per se. Rather, it describes a Buddhist philosophy that has been around for thousands of years. To be mindful is to cultivate a deep awareness of your moment-to-moment experiences. This philosophy teaches you to become more aware of the present moment and to accept your current experience in a nonjudgmental way.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Theory

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is based on a simple concept that has a complicated name: the differential activation hypothesis. According to this theory, our negative mood states are closely linked to dysfunctional ways of thinking about ourselves and the world we live in.

Negative mood states tend to trigger problematic thoughts; and problematic thoughts reinforce negative mood states. People who struggle with depression, therefore, tend to get trapped in a vicious cycle that can be reactivated easily, unless they are trained to break this cycle.

How Does Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Suggest the Mind Works?

According to Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, our minds operate in two different “modes”:

1. The Doing Mode

Your mind is incredibly good at setting goals and working towards them. This might be a matter of cooking dinner, getting to work on time, building a career, trying to feel happiness or overcoming mental illness. When your mind is filled with these sorts of thoughts, it’s operating in the doing mode.

This can be a good thing: your mind is preparing you for action and allowing you to move forward in life. Often, however, while you’re in the doing mode you’re comparing your own progress with broader standards and expectations for where you should be. This sort of comparison can fuel thoughts and feelings that are not conducive to mental health. Furthermore, when you’re in this mode, your mind is so preoccupied with doing that you fail to take a step back and notice when you’re becoming embroiled in a negative emotional cycle.

2. The Being Mode

This mode is about experiencing and accepting the present without wishing for it to be different. In this mode, you’re not thinking about goals or comparing your progress to set ideals; rather, you’re simply living in the moment. If you’ve ever surfed an ocean wave, played a piece of music or lost yourself on a dancefloor, these are perfect examples of operating in the being mode.

In our goal-orientated lives, very few of us find the time and energy to tap into this mode of being. This is unfortunate, because the being mode allows us to experience and enjoy life, rather than rushing through it and allowing it to pass us by. Furthermore, switching to the being mode is potentially therapeutic in terms of reducing stress and improving your mood.

How Does Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Cause Change?

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy helps you to achieve a balance between being and doing. Both modes are necessary and important, but there are times when it can be therapeutic to engage in being rather than doing. This helps us to become aware of and separate from harmful thoughts and behaviors that lead to emotional distress.

In other words, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy can help you to break the cycle between negative mood states and dysfunctional thought patterns, in order to foster a greater level of emotional wellbeing. At the same time, you’re empowered to cultivate a more accepting view of yourself, which can promote healing.

What Happens in a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Session?

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy was originally designed as a form of group therapy that takes place over 8 weeks. The program is intensive: clients meet once per week for 2-hour sessions. On every other day of the week, clients are required to perform 45-minute homework exercises. Homework typically consists of mindfulness-related meditation practices, and research shows that while this homework represents a time commitment, it has a significant therapeutic impact.

While this is the standard format for Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, this modality is also used in individual therapy, which research shows to be equally effective. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy may also be used as an adjunct to other forms of therapy, and at times therapists may draw on certain aspects and principles of this approach without necessarily sticking to the format described above.

Techniques Used in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy sessions draw on a broad range of techniques and skills which you can use to enhance your own emotional wellbeing. For starters, your therapist will help you to identify problematic beliefs and thinking patterns that are underlying any emotional difficulties that you might be facing.

You’ll also be trained to switch between the doing and being modes. This is typically aided by mindfulness-based techniques including breathing exercises, guided meditations, yoga poses and learning how to perform everyday activities – such as eating, showering and brushing your teeth – in a more mindful manner.

Another hallmark technique associate with Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is known as the three-minute breathing space. This involves taking three minutes each day to turn your attention inwards toward your emotions, thoughts, breathing patterns and physical sensations. This helps to alter neural networks in a way that gives you a greater degree of control over your emotional and behavioral responses.

Does Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Work?

On the whole, the answer to this question appears to be a resounding ‘yes’! Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is generally viewed by the medical community as a safe and effective treatment option for a broad range of conditions and concerns.

What Kinds of Concerns is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Best For?

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy was initially developed for people suffering from depression. Research suggests that it is particularly effective for helping people who experience recurrent depressive episodes, reducing relapse by up to 50%! Since being developed, however, this modality has been used more broadly to help people cope with symptoms related to psychosis, anxiety, bipolar and eating disorders.

This technique is not only used in the treatment of psychiatric conditions, however. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy has been used to help people cope with medical symptoms related to fibromyalgia, chronic pain, diabetes and epilepsy, among others.

How Are Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Specialists Trained?

To practice Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, one must undergo training at an approved institution, such as the UCSD Mindfulness Based Professional Training Institute in the United States. There are other accredited facilities around the world; in Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

To be considered for entry into a program, the therapist needs to satisfy certain prerequisites. These typically include being registered as a mental health practitioner, performing mindfulness as a part of their own regular daily practice and having prior experience with cognitive therapy. The initial training phase is the teacher qualification, in which the therapist receives mentorship, completes courses and attends retreats. Thereafter, the therapist becomes formally certified, which involves additional advanced training along with supervised practice.

Concerns/Limitations of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy

The research on the effectiveness of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is promising. However, because this technique represents a recent development within the world of psychotherapy, researchers have not yet had a chance to properly assess whether the positive outcomes that we see with Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy will extend into the long term.

Furthermore, some of the studies which provide evidence for the efficacy of this approach have been criticized in terms of the way that the studies are designed. With time, it’s likely that more sophisticated studies will be conducted so that we can develop a more accurate understanding of the strengths and limitations of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.

Important Practitioners in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy was developed through a collaboration between three doctors: Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale. While Dr. Segal is based in Canada, Dr. Williams and Dr. Teasdale are both from the United Kingdom. All three are greatly respected for their contributions within the fields of psychology and psychiatry, particularly with regards to the use of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy in the treatment of recurrent depression.

Another practitioner who is bound to be mentioned in any conversation regarding Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is Jon Kabat-Zinn. While he was not directly involved in developing this modality, Jon Kabat-Zinn is credited with incorporating the principles of mindfulness into Western mental health care practice.

How to Find a Therapist

A Google search should provide you with a list of therapists in your area. Alternatively, you could speak to your GP or psychiatrist for a referral. You can also visit www.mbct.com for more options.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

Seek out a professional who is formally licensed to practice as a mental health professional. Ideally, they should also have been trained to practice Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy specifically. For the sake of establishing a good therapeutic alliance, seek out a therapist in whose presence you feel safe and comfortable.

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

  • With which professional boards are you registered?
  • Have you completed training and certification in MBCT?
  • Where did you complete your training?
  • How long have you been practicing MBCT?
  • How can MBCT help me?
  • How long will treatment last?
  • What are your rates?
  • Will sessions be covered by my health insurance?

Find a Therapist Now

Here at Thrivetalk, we make the process of finding a therapist easy. We work with a broad selection of experienced mental health practitioners, all of whom have received appropriate training and hold the relevant accreditation. Many of our practitioners are familiar with Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. Furthermore, Thrivetalk offers a simplified sign-up process, affordable rates and therapists who are both caring and dedicated. Follow this link to start the process of being matched with the perfect therapist for your needs.

Final Thoughts on Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy

Does it ever feel as if your life is a non-stop stream of chaotic activity and goal-directed behavior? Do you repeatedly find yourself trapped in a vicious cycle of negative moods leading to dysfunctional thinking patterns which then reinforce your negative mood? Are you so focused on doing that you’re missing out on the opportunity to experience and appreciate your life?

If so, you’re not alone. But what if you could slow things down – to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy provides you with the necessary tools to break the cycle between harmful thoughts and feelings, allowing you to reach a place of self-acceptance and improved mental health.

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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