Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Can Help with Depression

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) has become an accepted and popular form of treatment for clinical depression. The goal of mindfulness is to increase a client’s ability to accept his or her feelings nonjudgmentally and involves the use of techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation. Data on MBCT shows that this approach is highly effective at reducing the deleterious symptoms of depression in people who have experienced previous episodes. Specifically, MBCT has been shown to help people decrease their worry, rumination, and negative affect. This therapeutic approach entails 8 weeks of sessions in which clients use focus, attention, and skill building in order to develop the tools to continue MBCT on their own. Current research on MBCT demonstrates efficacy for people in remission from depression, but little research supports its viability for those currently experiencing depression, as their cognitive resources may be impaired, thus preventing them from being able to fully benefit from the treatment.

Because the success rate of MBCT is so promising for clients in remission, exploring the efficacy of this treatment for those currently experiencing depressive symptoms could perhaps provide an opportunity to improve the mental health and overall quality of life of many individuals. Therefore, J.R. van Aalderen of the Department of Psychiatry at Radboud University at the Nijmegen Medical Center in the Netherlands chose to measure the effectiveness of MBCT in people currently in and out of remission for a recent study.

Van Aalderen enrolled 102 participants in an MBCT plus treatment as usual (TAU) condition and 103 participants in a TAU condition. The participants comprised individuals with three previous episodes of depression who were either in or out of remission. The results revealed that the presence of current depressive symptoms did not significantly reduce the effectiveness of MBCT. More specifically, all of the participants in the MBCT condition realized reductions in symptoms of depression, rumination, and worry compared to the TAU group. In addition, those in the MCBT group had lower rates of relapse than those in the control group. Another caveat of this research was the finding that the skills developed during the MBCT, such as acceptance, were equally as robust in those with and without current depressive symptoms, providing evidence that MBCT may be an effective approach for most individuals with a history of depression, regardless of their current psychological state. Van Aalderen added, “The greatest merit of this study is that it shows that MBCT is also efficacious in recurrent depressive patients with a current depressive episode.”

Van Aalderen, J.R., Donders, A.R.T., Giommi, F., Spinhoven, P., Barendregt, H. P. (2012). The efficacy of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in recurrent depressed patients with and without a current depressive episode: A randomized controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 42.5, 989-1001.

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  • willow


    May 23rd, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    it’s all about teaching those who are struggling how to cope with their problems and develop new ways to deal with the stress and anxiety that they could be feeling- if you give someone a whole new way to look at life then maybe you can help them avoid so much of the depression that they have been feeling for a long time

  • Riley


    May 23rd, 2012 at 3:43 PM

    Is MBCT generally employed along with the use of medication as well or would this be used only as a stand alone treatment?

  • larry


    May 24th, 2012 at 12:42 AM

    I have the same question as Riley.if it is used as stand alone the that’s great because we are eliminating the use of drugs and accomplishing it only with the use of techniques like meditation which are not only helpful here but are beneficial in general too.

  • Toni


    May 24th, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    can really see how this could make a huge difference to someone especially if they have had a gard time communicating with others about the pain they are feeling- just can’t ever discount the power of a friend to listen and a shoulder to cry on

  • Sandra D

    Sandra D

    May 25th, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    This is more of a question then a comment. I was being treated for depression in an out patient setting of a hospital. Which, I placed my self so I could be watched for a period of time while starting to take antidepresents. I had a sister who from my memory started to take meds and soon after committed suicide.

    While in this program, I encountered a new LSCW that I feel pushed me by asking me 5 times why I was not doing the meditation. I was upset because of a legal document, I received the night before. I had asked a staff member to fax it for me to my lawyer. When this person returned to to me I was just starting with LCSW group to do a meditation exerice.

    When I tried to close my eyes, I felt I couldn’t control my tears and was trying so hard to be considerate to the others in group trying to relax. Beacause the day before in this same persons group. I cried very hard because of a question she just happen to ask me ” Who is the most loving person in your family”? I began to sob because there really isn’t anyone and my only family member my mother was just very critical the night before, which I was trying to process during this day. Because I was upset Wednesday and then again Thursday because of the legal document. I was felt that this LCSW really pushed me and created a pretty big distraction for the others in group. Each relaxition excerise she would read, she would ask me why my eyes were not closed. I each time explained in as quite a voice and with as many gestures as to not bother the others. After-all this was a relaxation exercise. I explained that I was trying and when I close my eyes I would have racing thoughts and begin to cry. I gestured that I was watching the grass out the window and was doing the best I could.

    After the fifth time of being asked and mind you I had already once excused myself and went outside and was joined by another patient in group who try to soothe me and then I we went back.

    I in short felt that this brandnew therpist who had not even graduated from her program, it was the following week pushed me so hard because she was insecure as to why 2 days in a row I was not doing well in her groups. The reasons had not one thing to do with her abilities or lack of. It was just other reasons. I felt that she was going to push me because of her mistaken understanding of my feelings and innocent intentions toward her. I strongly felt that she was taking my lack of percieved cooperation, very personally.

    This was confirmed to me when another staff member listened to my feelings and responded with ” oh so this wasn’t personal”? I then had my strong ideas as to why I was pushed so agressively confirmed.

    I days later was approached by my LCSW in charge of my care, and asked if I could contract to not talk about this women anymore to others. Each day when she would come to work and enetred her office outside the cafeteria, she would look at me and I felt she assummed she was the topic of conversation.

    I said that yes once the day before I spoke of her but that only. So now my really strong feelings that I had already about this young womens instincts being not good for me, have been supper confirmed.

    My issue is I did not feel that this LCSW could seperate some really odd feelings about me. I did not want to further subject my self to her poor jugement and bad instincts any longer, after-all, she could have just asked me if I disliked her or whatever, she felt.But instead she became agressive and because I did want to be subjected to her anymore, they said I had to or leave the program. I was very clearwith the managing LCSW and said that I’m not implusive and would not be able to let them know by 2:00 that same day. I wanted to make a well thought out un-emotional decession. But a hour later I was approached by my LCSW and told that I had already made up my mind and I had to leave the program.

    Does a patient have the right not to want to be with a particular LCSW, with what I believe are very good reasons?

    So sorry that I wrote so much, I wanted to try to give you my strong perceptions about this person, that were later confirmed.

    Thank you so much,
    Sandra Diaz

  • Padraig O'Morain

    Padraig O'Morain

    May 28th, 2012 at 11:58 PM

    Sounds like an upsetting and frustrating experience, Sandra. I always do my mindfulness practice with my eyes open by the way! Padraig

  • anon


    November 29th, 2013 at 9:01 PM

    The author of this article states that, “little research supports its [MBCT] viability for those currently experiencing depression”. However, the study this author referenced does actually support its effectiveness. Here is a quote from the studies abstract:

    “The study findings suggest that MBCT is as effective for patients with recurrent depression who are currently depressed as for patients who are in remission. Directions towards a better understanding of the mechanisms of action of MBCT are given, although future research is needed to support these hypotheses” (Aalderen, 2012).

    So not all hope is lost!

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