This page is about Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Before we describe MBCT we explain what mindfulness is.
Unhelpful habits of mind…
Many of us spend a lot of time brooding about the past, worrying about the future and being hard on ourselves.
These habits of mind are difficult to control and often leave us feeling stressed and low.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness involves paying attention to exactly how things are in the present moment.
When we’re tuned in to the present moment, the mind is less likely to get caught up in unhelpful patterns of thinking and feeling.
Tuning in to the present isn’t easy, especially when we’re feeling stressed and unhappy… but with patience and practice, we can all learn to be more mindful more often.
What might be the benefits?
Mindfulness helps us to become more familiar with the mind and to work with the mind in more helpful ways. The mind becomes a little more focussed and steady.
As mindfulness develops, we become more aware of our thoughts and feelings, we learn to be more accepting of ourselves and we respond more wisely to difficulties and stress.
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
A common way to get better at mindfulness is to learn mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) combines training in mindfulness meditation with elements of cognitive behavioural therapy.
It is a group-based skills development programme which includes 8 x 2 ¼ hour sessions, normally over consecutive weeks, and one longer session.
You will learn to use simple meditations, for example focusing attention on the physical sensations of breathing.
The course demands considerable commitment and involves practising at home on a daily basis. It is important to attend every session and to complete all the home practice.
What’s the evidence?
MBCT has been thoroughly researched and is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for people who suffer from repeated episodes of depression.
There is robust meta-analytic evidence for MBCT’s effectiveness in reducing symptoms of depression (Goldberg et al, 2019) as well as for relapse prevention (Kuyken et al, 2016).
There is a great deal of evidence that learning mindfulness can be very helpful for people who are stressed.
Anonymous quotes from attendees of mindfulness courses
“The practices are making a clear, positive impact on how well I can cope with stress, depression, grief and pain. Patterns of thinking have been challenged and are gradually changing… I like myself more and am kinder to myself and have greater self-awareness.”
“I came to the course expecting a miracle cure that never happened but what did happen was more important. I found how to be myself again and not hide away from the world imagining things that are not true. This course was a godsend.”
“At the beginning of the programme my mood was at rock bottom with no motivation to do anything. I felt my life was over and I had nothing to look forward to. Now, at this point in time, with regular practice, my mood is elevated, I feel hopeful about the future and I am motivated to do more with my life… I intend to keep the practice up as it has had such a great improvement in my life as a whole.”
Real life experience
Mindfulness is often couched in metaphor. Read books by the chief architect of modern mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and you’ll find mindfulness exercises taking you to mountains and lakes, forests and rivers.
I’m going to follow that tradition of metaphor and start by telling you about my troublesome time machine.
I have a troublesome time machine. It’s like Dr Who’s time machine in that it takes me to times and places I’m not expecting to go. Times I don’t want to visit. Places it’s upsetting for me to be. Times and places that leave me anxious or depressed.
Instead of Daleks and Cybermen my futures are filled with medical catastrophe and family hardship. Full of people who are threatening to me and everyday places where I feel in danger.
The past is fair game for my troublesome time machine too. Something triggers a trip, the present moment dissolves and I’m in the past at some wished to be forgotten time to re-live the danger and hurt there. To unhelpfully re-learn some no longer appropriate lesson.
My troublesome time machine is of course my own mind worrying about the future and revisiting past events.
Mindfulness has helped.
It isn’t the theme of this piece but let me say how mindfulness has not helped. By doing so I can go on to say how it does help to manage difficult and sometimes unmoving issues.
Mindfulness has not been able to keep my troublesome time machine, my mind, from travelling. The present moment seems alien to it and I’m certain fighting to stop the trips will only waste my energy. If I were to win, it may leave me less of the person I am, curtailing my creativity and insightfulness.
Mindfulness has helped me to accept who I am. How I am. What I am. My mind will travel but I’m no longer a helpless, frightened, passenger. I can gently guide it home, back to the present moment.
Mindfulness hasn’t stopped the fear, pain or anxiety rising from the places my mind visits.
It isn’t a cure for such thoughts and feelings. It isn’t going to take them away from me. Instead I’ve learned to let those feelings come and simply be with them. To sit with them. To observe them. To experience them non-judgementally, without getting carried away by them. I know that they will pass and in the meantime I can be curious about how they flow, their rise and their fall, their effect on my body and on my thoughts.
Mindfulness hasn’t stopped or reduced the recurrence of my illness.
Mindfulness does speed my recovery. As I come out of depressions that sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts and hospital admission, I can be gentle on myself. Being critical of myself can hurt me. Mindfulness allows me to accept how I am, illness and all.
Mindfulness doesn’t stop the irritability that comes with my illness. Angry outbursts hurt my personal relationships and it’s my closest who suffer most.
Other therapies didn’t help me understand how to manage my anger but mindfulness has given me some tools. Again, to observe my emotions. Not as good or bad, just as an experience, one of many each day. By being aware I can decide how to respond, I don’t have to let my emotions decide how to respond for me.
Mindfulness is a skill. It takes work. So does any therapy. It takes regular practice. Like any skill. It isn’t a short-cut and the courses we attend only set the scene but I find it enjoyable and rewarding. You may read that Mindfulness comes with many benefits. The one benefit I would commend to you is peace. It helps me find some peace in life.