Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (often called MBCT) is a therapy that combines aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness practices.

On the cognitive side, this kind of therapy involves learning to change and recognize the unhelpful thought patterns that may be affecting your mood. On the mindfulness side, you’ll learn new perspectives on your moods, thoughts, and experiences, with the goal of developing a more accepting view of yourself and your life.

MBCT is always conducted as group therapy, so you work with both your therapist and other members of the group to improve your well-being.

What can Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) help with?

MBCT was developed specifically for people dealing with depression. It is designed as a way to avoid relapses into depressive episodes, and most evidence about its effectiveness focuses on its use with depression.

That said, some early studies also suggest that MBCT can also be helpful for other mental health concerns, including anxiety and substance use issues.

Does Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) work?

Yes, a number of studies have shown that MBCT is often very helpful for people suffering from recurring episodes depression. For example, one study in the U.K. found that people with depression who went through MBCT sessions were 43% less likely to experience a relapse. Another review of several scientific studies on MBCT found that it may even be as effective as antidepressants for some people.

Most evidence for MBCT has to do with depression. However, that same review reported some preliminary evidence that MBCT might also be helpful for people suffering from other common mental health conditions.

How does  Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) work?

MBCT works in a few different ways:

  1. First, the cognitive aspect of this therapy gives you tools for better understanding your own thought processes and how they affect your mood. The idea is that moods essentially come from thoughts, so by learning ways to correct thoughts that are inaccurate or unhelpful, you can stop your thoughts from having a negative impact on your feelings.
  2. Second, the mindfulness aspect of MBCT works by helping you gain a more accepting, less judgmental perspective on your life. Mindfulness exercises focus on becoming more present in the moment and learning to separate your sense of self from what’s going on around you. These techniques can help you maintain a sense of peace even in the face of difficult emotions.
  3. Finally, MBCT works through helping you form connections with other people facing similar challenges. Because MBCT is a group therapy, it gives you a chance to practice healthy relationships and learn to rely on the support of others.

How frequently are  Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) sessions held?

MBCT sessions occur once a week, with each session lasting for about two hours. There is also one intensive, day-long session that occurs midway though the treatment.

How long does Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) treatment last?

MBCT lasts for eight weeks in total. Additionally, MBCT includes weekly homework assignments, many of which offer real-world wellness techniques that you can keep using after the formal treatment ends.

How are Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) sessions structured?

MBCT has a relatively formal structure. It is always a group therapy, and it always occurs over the course of eight weeks.

Additionally, there is a single day-long session built into the structure of the treatment. This intensive session usually occurs after the fifth week of regular sessions.

Finally, much of the important work of MBCT treatment takes place outside of sessions. Participants are expected to complete substantial homework assignments on their own during the week. Usually, this homework includes practicing meditation and other mindfulness exercises, with the goal of building a regular meditation practice that will continue to support participants even after treatment ends.

What happens in a typical Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) session?

MBCT sessions can include a wide range of techniques and exercises. Some of the core components of most MBCT sessions include:

  • Psychoeducation: Particularly in earlier sessions, you’ll learn more about your mental health condition and symptoms, as well as their neurological underpinnings. In most versions of MBCT, this process focuses on learning about depression and how it tends to affect people.
  • Meditation: You’ll likely learn several different kinds of meditation, including seated meditation, movement-based meditations, and body scan techniques for reducing physical tension.
  • Other mindfulness activities: Sessions often include breathing exercises, visualization, and stress reduction techniques.
  • Cognitive exercises: You’ll learn techniques like identifying thought patterns and replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Group discussion: An important aspect of MBCT is building connections with other individuals in your therapy group. This can be a way to gain solidarity through others’ experiences, practice healthy relationships, and learn to rely on each other for support.
  • Going over homework: Because at-home practice is such a key part of MBCT, it’s common to spend some time in sessions discussing how this practice is going for the members of the group.

What should I look for in a Therapist for Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)?

Therapists who lead MBCT groups may be social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, or another kind of mental health professional. No matter what kind of therapist you choose to work with, make sure that they meet the following criteria:

  • An advanced degree in a mental health field;
  • Licensure to practice in the state where you live;
  • Additional experience and/or training using MBCT;
  • If applicable, experience working with people who share your specific concerns (if you’re dealing with a certain mental health condition) or identity (if you feel that any aspect of your identity may be relevant to treatment).

There are also several different organizations that offer training and certification for practitioners to use MBCT. Two of the most prominent are the UCSD Center for Mindfulness and the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. Therapists who have this certification are required to have extensive training and experience with MBCT, so they’re often a great place to start your search.

New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.