Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy employs techniques that focus on emotional states in the here and now. This helps interrupt the chain of negative thoughts and rumination. Continue reading to learn more about it!
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Last update: 24 August, 2021

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a type of psychotherapy applied to patients with depressive disorders. It integrates aspects of cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression with the mindfulness-based stress reduction program.

What exactly is it? When’s it recommended?

First of all, keep in mind it encompasses two therapeutic approaches with similar origins, but with some differences. To better understand what they are about, let’s review the characteristics of each one.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness

Firstly, cognitive-behavioral therapy belongs to the “second wave therapies” category. Its approach focuses on the role of cognition in the root and maintenance of problems.

One of its most prominent exponents, the psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck, explains depression from the “cognitive triad.” That is a patient has a negative view of themselves, the facts, and the future.

Therefore, depressive symptoms are the consequence of negative thought patterns. In this respect, cognitive therapy seeks to intervene in these patterns (cognitive biases) to replace them with healthier and more adaptive ones.

Meanwhile, third-generation therapies focus on contextual features and functional analysis of behavior. That is, the context in which the behavior is functioning, what for, and how to adapt it to something healthier, instead of eliminating it.

Mindfulness is part of this classification and it’s just how its creator, Jon Kabat Zinn, interprets it. It’s about focusing on the present moment (here and now) of experiences as they appear, without judging them.

Two people talking.
Both cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness have positive effects on the regulation of emotions.

Applications of mindfulness

One can apply mindfulness in different situations, which aren’t necessarily linked to illnesses. Specifically, it’s useful for depression, generalized anxiety, phobias, and eating disorders, among others. There’s also evidence that it contributes to the treatment of addictions and compulsions.

Its field of application is quite wide and is actually appropriate for both adults and children. Since it works with relaxation, meditation, and conscious breathing, it can contribute to improving performance, concentration, and the ability to cope with difficult situations.

Among other things, it helps with the following:

  • Distancing from negative thoughts
  • Focusing on self-compassion
  • Regulating emotions
  • Becoming aware of one’s own thoughts and feelings
  • Avoiding guilt
  • Improving mood
  • Strengthening self-esteem

How does mindfulness-based cognitive therapy work?

As we said above, the basis for mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program. It’s a proposal by Segal, Williams, and Teasdale, aimed at relapse prevention in patients with depression. Specifically, it has a duration of eight weeks.

It combines relaxation and meditation with body scans. This technique helps a person be more aware of their body sensations. It also attaches importance to psychoeducation so that people have the tools to relate to their thoughts differently.

Cognitive therapy emphasizes the connection between thoughts and feelings. Thus, it’s a two-part program.

Part one

The first four sessions are about self-knowledge and awareness. This is because the fast pace of the day makes many people unaware of what’s happening to them and why. People learn some relaxation and breathing techniques to get in touch with every part of their body.

Then, they move on to mood exploration. The aim here is to learn to focus on them. There’s self-recording during the day to identify pleasant moments and the sensations that accompany them.

Part two

The last three sessions make up the second phase of the treatment. Once a person is aware of their feelings and thoughts, they must seek positive coping.

They achieve this by breathing and designing different action plans when experiencing discomfort. In this way, it’s possible to find alternative ways to stop perpetuating that which ails them.

A seemingly depressed woman.
Cognitive therapy based on mindfulness has led to positive effects in reducing relapses in patients with depression.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: How does it help with depression?

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy focuses on the identification and recognition of thoughts, in the here and now. In this way, and with the practice of meditation, it’s possible to gradually interrupt rumination and has an impact on depression.

Likewise, thoughts of guilt and self-criticism decrease. This is because mindfulness works on the suspension of judgment. As you can imagine, the person learns to pay more attention to their thoughts and to identify their emotions. Thus, it allows them to realize that thinking and feeling go hand in hand.

Note that depression sometimes leads to avoidance of certain situations, especially social ones. This avoidance decreases with CAPT, as awareness of what they feel increases and leads them to seek other ways of resolving it.

Things to keep in mind about mindfulness-based cognitive therapy

Depression is a major concern worldwide due to its high prevalence. Its most aggravating factor is the risk of relapse, even when undergoing treatment. Fortunately, the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) approach has yielded positive and promising results.

Psychoeducation, relaxation, and mindfulness not only empower a patient to “think and green themselves.” It also provides positive coping resources. This is mainly because it’s an effective metacognitive exercise to de-center oneself and reduce rumination.

In short, mindfulness opens a door to thinking about what’s happening in the here and now. It suspends the routine and automatic solutions that often prevent you from getting out of the negative loop. The development of self-observation works along the same lines as it orients towards more creative and adaptive solutions.

It might interest you...
Five Mindfulness Exercises for Anxiety
Step To HealthRead it in Step To Health
Five Mindfulness Exercises for Anxiety

Although there are many mindfulness exercises, in this article, we decided to share five that may help you manage your anxiety. Try them out today!



  • Williams JM, Russell I, Russell D. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: further issues in current evidence and future research. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2008;76(3):524-529. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.76.3.524
  • Garland EL, Howard MO. Mindfulness-based treatment of addiction: current state of the field and envisioning the next wave of research. Addict Sci Clin Pract. 2018;13(1):14. Published 2018 Apr 18. doi:10.1186/s13722-018-0115-3
  • Keng SL, Smoski MJ, Robins CJ. Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: a review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev. 2011;31(6):1041-1056. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2011.04.006
  • Beck, A.T. (1983). Cognitive therapy of depression: New perspectives. En P.J. Clayton y J.E. Barrett (comps.), Treatment of depression: Old controversies and new approaches (pp. 265-290). Nueva York: Raven Press
  • Hayes SC, Hofmann SG. The third wave of cognitive behavioral therapy and the rise of process-based care. World Psychiatry. 2017;16(3):245-246. doi:10.1002/wps.20442
  • Cabezas Pizarro, Hannia, & Lega, Leonor I. (2006). Relación empírica entre la Terapia RacionalEmotivo-Conductual (TREC) de Ellis y la TerapiaCognitiva (TC) de Beck en una muestra costarricense. Revista Educación, 30(2),101-109.[fecha de Consulta 11 de Mayo de 2021]. ISSN: 0379-7082. Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=44030207
  • Tickell A, Ball S, Bernard P, et al. The Effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) in Real-World Healthcare Services. Mindfulness (N Y). 2020;11(2):279-290. doi:10.1007/s12671-018-1087-9
  • Figueroa, Gustavo. (2002). La terapia cognitiva en el tratamiento de la depresión mayor. Revista chilena de neuro-psiquiatría40(Suppl. 1), 46-62. https://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0717-92272002000500004