Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy: What Does It Treat?

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is proving to be an effective treatment for depression and trauma. But what exactly is MBCT, and who does it treat?

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a form of behavioural, psychological treatment that combines mindfulness principles with cognitive and behavioral techniques. Mindfulness was once considered a "spiritual practice" that was disparate from modern science. However, MBCT brings together proponents of these approaches with the aim of patients getting the best from both worlds. It can be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions and help people manage their emotions and challenge distorted thinking habits. So, how does mindfulness-based cognitive therapy work and who can it treat?

What Is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that uses methods from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in collaboration with mindfulness and medication. The two approaches offer separate benefits that interconnect to prevent depression relapse and help you better cope with your emotions.

CBT techniques are used to help you counteract distorted or unhelpful thoughts. Mindfulness-based exercises can help you learn to be at peace even when your emotions threaten to overwhelm you. Together, they create the MBCT framework.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was initially posed as a relapse-prevention method for individuals with recurring major depressive disorder (MDD). However, it is now used to treat a variety of mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety and trauma.

The benefits of MBCT include:

  • Focus on accepting thoughts and emotions rather than attaching or reacting to them
  • Helps you disengage from self-criticism
  • Can improve depressed or dysmorphic mood
  • Helps you respond to and manage negative thinking patterns
  • Increases awareness and understanding
  • Helps to alleviate stress

 Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Exercises & Techniques

MBCT is not about stopping negative thoughts or emotions. The practice provides the tools so that you can recognize trigger moments, make changes to your behavior to prevent relapse and cope more effectively with challenging emotions.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy exercises and techniques must be led by a qualified professional. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Body scanning (focusing on the physical to detach from the emotional)
  • Deep breathing
  • Sitting meditations
  • Walking meditations
  • Mindful eating
  • Reality testing, which involves listing thoughts and looking at them objectively to see if the "facts" line up with your emotions
  • Interrupting automatic thoughts. In MBCT, negative automatic thoughts (NATs) are believed to contribute to depression, so cognitive techniques are used to challenge and disrupt them.

Does Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) Work?

Evidence has shown that MBCT can prevent relapse into depression by 43%. Research also indicates that it is particularly effective for vulnerable groups who are more likely to fall into relapse, such as those with no support network, financial problems or other mental health issues. In some cases, it is offered as an alternative to antidepressant medications, though many people practice mindfulness-based cognitive therapy alongside a prescribed drug regimen.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a highly effective, affordable mode of treatment for many people suffering from trauma, depression and other mental health conditions. However, concerns have surfaced regarding underqualified mindfulness teachers positioning themselves as experts. To be safe and effective, MBCT must be delivered by a licensed therapist or mindfulness teacher. If you're interested in trying mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, ask your doctor to refer you to a trusted practitioner.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, September 18). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy: What Does It Treat?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Last Updated: October 15, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info