What is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy?

Michelle Overman, Author
June 18, 2019

People work through personal struggles all the time. Some find different types of treatment helpful anywhere from medication, to therapy, to accountability through friendships. At a certain point, the treatment and the effort people put into change comes to fruition. They find themselves where they want to be. While there is relief in progress and change, there can also be anxiety. It can be difficult to work so hard and worry about things going back to the way they were. For those struggling with addiction, they may successfully reach sobriety, but the next challenge is to prevent relapse. Initial change is important, but keeping that change in tact and making it permanent can be difficult. One of the main purposes of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is to help people prevent relapse or the return to old thought patterns or emotions.


MBCT was developed to help individuals dealing with major depression. The basic idea is to help people alter the relationship between themselves and the negative thoughts and emotions they are experiencing. MBCT is an eight week group therapy program with each weekly session lasting two hours. Individuals will learn different techniques including meditation and breathing exercises. The program also provides a basic understanding for how people think.

Mindfulness is a key component of MBCT. Being mindful involves having an awareness of oneself in the present moment. Two tenants of mindfulness are awareness and insight. Awareness is like noticing the symptoms of the flu. If you have a fever, body aches, and are vomiting, you have awareness that you are likely sick. When you set an appointment with your doctor, you are searching for the insight piece. You want someone to notice the symptoms and understand why they are present. The insight the doctor gains from the symptoms is that you are sick with the flu. Mindfulness involves being aware of what you think and what you feel. When you are in tune with yourself, you are able to seek insight. Insight helps you derive understanding and meaning from what you are thinking and feeling. Mindfulness allows people to take a much-needed curious, non-judgmental approach towards themselves.

How does this work with the cognitive part of the therapy? With cognitive therapy, individuals get stuck on negative thought patterns and the feelings associated with those thoughts. Mindfulness techniques like meditation help people become aware of the thought patterns and the feelings they are experiencing. They can work to see themselves as separate from those thoughts and feelings. This type of externalization can help them move away from unhealthy or unhelpful automatic reactions or responses. The idea is to then move towards more positive responses that will be more beneficial long-term. For example, imagine a person who is in-recovery for major depression. They are doing well, but then their partner of six months suddenly ends their relationship. They become sad which can potentially trigger old, negative thought patterns and emotions. Utilizing mindfulness, they can work to manage the sadness from the breakup and keep themselves from becoming so overwhelmed that it triggers a major depressive episode.

While no form of treatment is perfect, utilizing mindfulness has enormous mental, emotional, and even physical health benefits.

Michelle Overman, Author

Michelle is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families.

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