Symptoms of depression may include negative affect, cognitive disturbances, rumination, and worry. In the study on major depression (MDD), mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) has been shown to be highly effective at reducing symptoms. This approach helps individuals develop an acceptance of their thoughts in a nonjudgmental way by taking a nonpersonal view. Rather than looking at thoughts subjectively, MBCT teaches individuals how to be objective in their appraisal of emotions. Doing so can decrease rumination and further positive affect.
Although the research on MDD and mindfulness is quite vast, the mechanisms affected through MBCT in the reduction of depressive symptoms is still somewhat unclear. Therefore, Tim Batink of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands wanted to explore how cognitive and affective processes worked to mediate or moderate MBCT for MDD.
Using a sample of 130 participants with residual, but not clinical symptoms of MDD, Batink looked at how rumination, affect, worry, and mindfulness skills worked together to influence the effects of MBCT. He found that overall, affect had a significant effect MBCT outcomes and also on depressive symptoms and worry. Interestingly, Batnik also noticed a difference in how these processes interacted when he compared participants with a history of fewer than two MDD episodes to those with three or more prior episodes.
For the participants with fewer than two episodes, cognitive changes had more impact on MBCT outcomes and changes in symptoms than affective changes. However, in the group with more than three prior episodes, affect changes had the greatest impact on symptom reduction via MBCT. These findings are novel and demonstrate unique mediators at work in individuals with differing MDD histories.
Batnik believes that these independent processes, cognitive and affective, may play unique roles in the course of symptoms and also risk for future episodes. He added, “Further research is necessary to confirm these hypotheses and examine underlying mechanisms for different populations and for individuals at different stages of the illness.”
Batink, T., Peeters, F., Geschwind, N., Van Os, J., Wichers, M. (2013). How does MBCT for depression work? Studying cognitive and affective meditaion pathways. PLoS ONE 8(8): e72778. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072778
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