Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
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Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a psychological therapy designed to aid in preventing the relapse of depression, specifically in individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). Its intent to address MDD specifically distinguishes MBCT from other mindfulness-based therapies such as mindfulness-based stress reduction which is applicable to a broad range of disorders, and mindfulness-based relapse prevention which is used to treat addiction.
MBCT uses traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) methods and adds in newer psychological strategies such as mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. Cognitive methods can include educating the participant about depression. Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation, focus on becoming aware of all incoming thoughts and feelings and accepting them, but not attaching or reacting to them. This process is known as "Decentering" and aids in disengaging from self-criticism, rumination, and dysphoric mood that can arise when reacting to negative thinking patterns.
Like CBT, MBCT functions on the theory that when individuals who have historically had depression become distressed, they return to automatic cognitive processes that can trigger a depressive episode. The goal of MBCT is to interrupt these automatic processes and teach the participants to focus less on reacting to incoming stimuli, and instead accepting and observing them without judgment. This mindfulness practice allows the participant to notice when automatic processes are occurring and to alter their reaction to be more of a reflection. It is theorized that this aspect of MBCT is responsible for the observed clinical outcomes.
Beyond its use in reducing depressive acuity, research additionally supports the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation upon reducing cravings for substances that people are addicted to. Addiction is known to involve the weakening of the prefrontal cortex that ordinarily allows for delaying of immediate gratification for longer term benefits by the limbic and paralimbic brain regions. Mindfulness meditation of smokers over a two-week period totaling five hours of meditation decreased smoking by about 60% and reduced their cravings, even for those smokers in the experiment who had no prior intentions to quit. Neuroimaging of those who practice mindfulness meditation has been shown to increase activity in the prefrontal cortex, a sign of greater self-control.
In 1991 Philip Barnard and John Teasdale created a multilevel theory of the mind called “Interacting Cognitive Subsystems,” (ICS). The ICS model is based on Barnard and Teasdale’s theory that the mind has multiple modes that are responsible for receiving and processing new information cognitively and emotionally. Barnard and Teasdale’s (1991) theory associates an individual’s vulnerability to depression with the degree to which he/she relies on only one of the modes of mind, inadvertently blocking the other modes. The two main modes of mind include the “doing” mode and “being” mode. The “doing” mode is also known as the driven mode. This mode is very goal-oriented and is triggered when the mind develops a discrepancy between how things are versus how the mind wishes things to be. The second main mode of mind is the “being” mode. “Being” mode, is not focused on achieving specific goals, instead the emphasis is on “accepting and allowing what is,” without any immediate pressure to change it. The central component of Barnard and Teasdale’s ICS is metacognitive awareness. Metacognitive awareness is the ability to experience negative thoughts and feelings as mental events that pass through the mind, rather than as a part of the self. Individuals with high metacognitive awareness are able to avoid depression and negative thought patterns more easily during stressful life situations, in comparison to individuals with low metacognitive awareness. Metacognitive awareness is regularly reflected through an individual’s ability to decenter. Decentering is the ability to perceive thoughts and feelings as both impermanent and objective occurrences in the mind.
Based on Barnard and Teasdale’s (1991) model, mental health is related to an individual’s ability to disengage from one mode or to easily move among the modes of mind. Therefore, individuals that are able to flexibly move between the modes of mind based on the conditions in the environment are in the most favorable state. The ICS model theorizes that the “being” mode is the most likely mode of mind that will lead to lasting emotional changes. Therefore, for prevention of relapse in depression, cognitive therapy must promote this mode. This led Teasdale to the creation of MBCT, which promotes the “being” mode.
This therapy was also created by Zindel Segal and Mark Williams, and was partially based on the mindfulness-based stress reduction program, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Theories behind these mindfulness-based approaches to psychological issues function on the idea that being aware of things in the present, and not focusing on the past or the future, will allow the client to be more apt to deal with current stressors and distressing feelings with a flexible and accepting mindset, rather than avoiding, and, therefore, prolonging them.
The MBCT program is a group intervention that lasts eight weeks. During these eight weeks, there is a weekly course, which lasts two hours, and one day-long class after the fifth week. However, much of the practice is done outside of classes, where the participant uses guided meditations and attempts to cultivate mindfulness in their daily lives.
MBCT prioritizes learning how to pay attention or concentrate with purpose, in each moment and most importantly, without judgment. Through mindfulness, clients can recognize that holding onto some of these feelings is ineffective and mentally destructive. Mindfulness is also thought by Fulton et al. to be useful for the therapists as well during therapy sessions.
MBCT is an intervention program developed to specifically target vulnerability to depressive relapse. Throughout the program, patients learn mind management skills leading to heightened metacognitive awareness, acceptance of negative thought patterns and an ability to respond in skillful ways. During MBCT patients learn to decenter their negative thoughts and feelings, allowing the mind to move from an automatic thought pattern to conscious emotional processing. MBCT can be used as an alternative to maintenance antidepressant treatment, though it may be no more effective.
Evaluation of effectiveness
Although MBCT can be used as an alternative or adjunct therapy for depression, research shows that it is most effective with individuals who have a history of at least three or more past episodes of depression. Within that population, participants with life-event triggered depressive episodes were least receptive to MBCT. A 2016 meta-analysis found MBCT to be effective for preventing relapses of depressive episodes among those with depression, especially if they had more residual symptoms.
Research supports that MBCT results in increased self-reported mindfulness which suggests increased present-moment awareness, decentering, and acceptance, in addition to decreased maladaptive cognitive processes such as judgment, reactivity, rumination, and thought suppression.
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- Mindfulness Practice in the Treatment of Traumatic Stress, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
- id=Mindfulnet.org The independent mindfulness information resourceInformation on MBCT., MBSR Research, applications and resources
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