What is MBCT?

Background, Aims and Practices of MBCT/MBSR

MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) is an approach developed in the 90’s by three cognitive therapy specialists in an internationally linked programme of research into the prevention of depression. It was developed as an extension of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s earlier work on Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in the USA. It is recommended by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a means to prevent depressive relapse but is being used increasingly widely with people who experience anxiety and stress.

How MBCT differs from Cognitive Therapy:

Cognitive therapy works through trying to change thoughts and feelings and is mostly done in a focussed, one-to-one therapeutic relationship. ‘MBCT discarded the therapy framework to work more fully within a ‘Mindfulness’ approach which emphasises holding thoughts and feelings in awareness rather than trying to change them.’(Segal et al, 2002) It aims to help people build their own strategies for staying well, based on skills and practices that are best taught in a group rather than in a one-to-one context.

Core aims of MBCT/MBSR:

To bring a kind and curious attention to thoughts, feelings and physical sensations in order to prevent the automatic escalation of negative mood/ thinking and the repetition of habitual, reactive patterns that restrict choice. Through developing an intention to be present with experience, conditions are created for greater resilience, self-compassion and appreciation to arise.

Core skills and practices:

All revolve around means to become more aware of negative patterns of thought and feeling, so as to ‘step out of, and stay out of’ them. ‘MBCT introduces practices and skills that aim to bring about a different way of relating to experience, replacing an old mode of ‘fixing and repairing’ problems with a mode of allowing things to be as they are, in order to see more clearly how best to respond.’

How it works:

Since it is often the continued attempts to ‘fix’, escape, or avoid difficult experiences that keeps the negative cycles turning, the key skill revolves around non-judgemental acceptance. In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s words:

If you learn how to open to thoughts and feelings, and not try to shut them off or change them, you can then taste a degree of freedom, where you are not necessarily plagued by obsessive or difficult thoughts because you know they are just bubbles in the stream of thought, and they are not the reality.

It’s all about noticing patterns of thinking and feeling, and from this increased awareness learning to relate differently to them …rather than habitually trying to ‘fix’ them. Trying to ‘fix’ or change difficult thoughts and feelings can too often be an expression of our anxiety, fear, frustration or denial, and because of this it does not ‘work’.