Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy

What is mindfulness? Is it clearing your mind or filling it up? In this blog, we’ll be discussing the wonderful concept of mindfulness and how it has fuelled the therapy process by integrating itself with cognitive therapy. 

As the name suggests- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach that combines cognitive therapy, meditation, and mindfulness. MBCT or Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a significantly newer or lesser-known therapeutic approach that was developed by therapists Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale. They believed that integrating traditional cognitive therapy with a program called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) would make therapy more effective.

How does MBCT work?

Cognitive therapy is based on the principle that thoughts are precursors to our emotions and the way we think affects the way we feel. Let’s say that you missed a job interview because you reached late at the venue, now a thought just came up- What if I do not get a job? This thought can now make you feel nervous, angry, frustrated, guilty and a possible wide range of negative emotions. What was the main reason that led to these emotions? - attending to that thought. 

CBT treatment focuses on identifying and changing negative thinking patterns. MBCT primarily focuses on mindfulness meditation that assists people in consciously paying attention to their thoughts and feelings in the “here and now”. It follows a solution-focused approach where close attention is paid to these thoughts and feelings without any scope of judgment.

This therapy approach aims at teaching people how to use cognitive methods and mindfulness meditation to interrupt the automatic negative thought spiral that might further lead to several negative mood states. Even after the episode passes - connections might still exist between certain thoughts and feelings.

MBCT helps individuals to realize and identify their sense of being and helps them to view themselves separate from their thoughts and moods. This disconnection allows them to feel liberated from the negative thought patterns that tend to play in their heads over and over again. 

After the person develops an awareness of the separation between thoughts, emotions, and self, they can realize that the self and emotions can exist simultaneously but they both don’t need to exist in the same direction. Example- When you just argued with your brother- “you feel sad” as opposed to “you are sad” ( sadness is a feeling, that is separate from you). 

This awareness or insight helps in the healing process wherein individuals can learn to introduce positive thoughts into negative moods to tackle the situation. Primarily, MBCT was devised to target depressive symptoms as they arose, however it also helps to learn skills and methods that can be used in times of distress. 

Techniques used in MBCT

Several mindfulness techniques and exercises are utilized in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Some of the most common are discussed below:

  • Three-minute breathing space: This technique focuses on three steps, each one minute in duration-Observing your experience (How are you doing right now?), focusing on the breath, and attending to your bodily sensations. 
  • Meditation: Individuals might practice guided or self-directed meditation that can enable them to gain a greater awareness of their body, thoughts, and breathing pattern

  • Mindfulness practices: Mindfulness in simple terms means being mindful or aware of the present moment. However, this is most commonly practiced during meditation, it can also be undertaken while doing anything- walking, reading a book, listening to music, washing dishes, etc. 

  • Body-scan exercises: This involves lying down and bringing awareness and attention to different areas of the body. This usually begins by attending to your toes and moving upwards until they reach the top of the head.

  • Mindfulness stretching: This activity involves stretching mindfully to help bring awareness to both the body and mind. 

  • Yoga: MBCT may also encourage people to practice different yoga asanas that can help facilitate mindful stretching of the body.

Certain meditation techniques—breathing meditations, sitting meditations, body scan meditations, walking meditations, and yoga—may help to improve a person’s mindfulness. In MBCT, individuals in treatment are also taught cognitive concepts such as the association between thoughts and feelings, and they also often have the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of depression.

Benefits of MBCT

According to research, MBCT is primarily helpful for those who are battling depression and have experienced multiple episodes. While it was originally developed to treat depression, it has been beneficial for other issues such as- 

  • Low mood
  • Unhappiness
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression associated with medical illnesses
  • Depression-relapse prevention
  • Treatment-resistant depression


Though there is currently no consensus as to how mindfulness should be defined, the basic concept refers to the practice of developing a deeper awareness of what is happening within one’s mind and body from moment to moment. Mindfulness follows a non-judgemental and present-focused approach. 

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 negative automatic thought processes and work through feelings healthily.


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