What is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)?
MBCT was developed to help people who have suffered from depression in the past, learn skills to help reduce the risk of depression returning. It combines cognitive therapy principles with the cultivation of mindfulness practices. MBCT training can free us from the grip of two critical processes that underlie depression and many other emotional problems:
1. The tendency to overthink, ruminate, or worry too much about some things, coupled with
2. A tendency to avoid, suppress, or push away other things.
If you have suffered from depression in the past, the MBCT programme is beneficial because it helps you understand what depression is, and what makes you vulnerable to downward mood spirals. MBCT also helps you to see the connection between these downward mood spirals and:
- the high standards we hold ourselves to
- feelings that we are simply “not good enough”
- the ways we put pressure on ourselves, or add to our unhappiness with constant busyness
- the ways we lose touch with what makes life worth living.
The information supplied on this webpage, provides an overview of the information supplied by mbct.co.uk the website curated by the founders of the MBCT programme. Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale based MBCT on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme.
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We all go through periods where life can seem quite flat or miserable, and we feel a bit low and sad. More often than not, things pick up, the feelings pass and our mood lifts again. But if you find yourself feeling a bit low for more than a couple of weeks, or these feelings keep returning over and over again for a few days at a time, it's possible that you may be experiencing depression.
With mild depression you find yourself feeling down a lot of the time. You brood on negative thoughts about yourself, others and life in general. You might feel irritable, angry, resentful or sorry for yourself. These feelings don't stop you carrying on with your life, but somehow everything seem less worthwhile and harder to do. You might feel very tired, and start to suffer from physical complaints that don't seem to be caused by a physical illness.
Depression can deepen further into a severely painful state of mind. Feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness and even guilt take hold and your self-esteem drops. Your memory and concentration are affected, and your daily rhythms become disrupted by changes in your basic bodily functions. For example, you can’t sleep, or you sleep too much; you can’t eat, or you eat too much. Your friends and family may notice that you have slowed down or are agitated, and that you have lost all interest in the activities that you used to enjoy, Your energy levels can become very low and you may even feel that life is not worth living. At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal.
If you are worried about your own or somebody else's mental wellbeing, please contact your GP or local IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy) services. Please follow this link for information about IAPT services in Derbyshire.
"Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time, and affects your everyday life." Mind
How does mindfulness help?
1. When low mood descends and depression sets in, our view narrows and we become preoccupied. We lose sight of what is happening internally and externally. Mindfulness practice helps you to see more clearly the patterns of the mind, You become better able to recognise when your mood is beginning to dip, and can start taking the necessary steps to look after yourself.
2. When we feel down, lots of negative thoughts can bubble up in our minds. Mindfulness teaches you ways to relate differently to these thoughts, and to keep in touch with the small pleasures around you. This provides a nourishing counterbalance to the negativity bias.
3. A low mood can send the mind into mental time-travel. We chew over memories and thoughts from the past, and worry about the days, weeks and months ahead. Mindfulness helps you to spot these patterns of negative thinking, rumination and worry before they get out of hand, and teaches you to return your mind to the present moment.
4. When we start to feel low, we often try to work out why we are feeling this way,. We think about how we might fix the 'low mood' or get rid of the negative emotions we are feeling. We may even worry about what will happen if we don't manage 'pull ourselves together'. As a result, we end up 'living in our heads' - over-thinking, going round in circles, dragging up negative memories, thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness helps you to change track, and enter a different mode of mind. You learn to gently let the tendency to automatically problem-solve emotional challenges. You begin to unhook from the mind's repetitive storyline, and the self-critical thinking. Instead you learn to attend to your experience more directly: using your senses instead of thoughts and concepts; and with interest and kindness instead of aversion and hostility.
5. When you have been depressed, you naturally worry that it might come back. Any hint of a relapse may cause you to try and suppress the symptoms, to ignore them and any unwanted thoughts or memories that they trigger. But this approach doesn't often work in the long run. The symptoms, thoughts and feelings often return with renewed vigour.
Mindfulness takes a different approach. It helps you build the capacity and courage to 'be with' and experience difficult emotions. Instead of battling with distressing moods, thoughts and sensations, you allow them to simply come and go. We discover that, by holding difficult and unwanted thoughts and feelings in awareness, they can be seen from a different perspective – one of warmth and compassion.
The MBCT Programme
An MBCT course will introduce you to the foundations of mindfulness practice. Mindfulness means learning to pay attention intentionally, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. MBCT also includes some simple cognitive therapy exercises that invite you to reflect on what might affect your perception of a given scenario, thought, mood or action.
MBCT courses are delivered to groups by teachers who have been trained to teach the MBCT programme. Participants meet together as a class, either in person or online, two hours a week for eight weeks, with the option to meet for a one 'all day' session between weeks 5 and 7. The main learning is done at home between classes, where you are encouraged to 'tend the seeds' of your mindfulness practice six days a week.
There is a set of audio tracks (MP3 files) to accompany the programme, which you can use to support your home practice. In the classes, there is an opportunity to talk about your experiences with the home practices, the difficulties and obstacles that inevitably arise, and how you can deal with these skilfully.
Over the eight weeks of the program, the practices help you:
to become familiar with the workings of your mind
to notice the times when you risk getting caught in old habits of mind that might re-activate downward mood spirals
to explore ways of releasing yourself from those old habits
to put you in touch with a different way of relating to yourself and the world
to notice small beauties and pleasures in the world around you instead of living in your head
to be kind to yourself, to accept yourself as you are, rather than judging yourself all the time.
to reduce inner battles, including always wishing things were different, or driving yourself to meet impossible goals.
The MBCT programme delivered as a combination of class-led and home-based meditation practices has been proven to combat depression successfully. However, the availability of MBCT classes through the healthcare system and privately is still quite limited. If you are finding it difficult to access a course and wish to pursue the programme by yourself, then there are the following options:
1. The Mindful Way Workbook is specifically written for those who wish to go through the programme for themselves at home of with the support of a friend or a therapist: The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress by John Teasdale, Mark Williams & Zindel Segal. Each week’s guided meditations (narrated by the authors) are provided on the accompanying MP3 CD and can also be downloaded.
2. You can learn more about the background to the MBCT programme and follow it yourself in the book “The Mindful Way Through Depression: freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness” . It was written by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn especially for those who have struggled with depression in their lives, and comes with a CD of guided meditations narrated by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
For a complete list of MBCT titles written by Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel Segal, please follow this link.
Does MBCT work?
The UK National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) has endorsed MBCT as an effective treatment for prevention of depressive relapse. Research has shown that people who have been clinically depressed 3 or more times (sometimes for twenty years or more) find that taking the program and learning these skills helps to considerably reduce their chances that depression will return. The evidence from two randomized clinical trials of MBCT indicates that it reduces rates of relapse by 50% among patients who suffer from recurrent depression.
More recently, new NICE guidelines on depression include mindfulness as a treatment for less severe depression. should be offfered as a treatment from less severe depression
Click on the links below to read the academic evidence