Mental Health

What Is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

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Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

If you’ve ever had an anxious thought that grew and grew until you felt physical symptoms, you are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 15% of U.S. adults experienced anxiety symptoms in the past two weeks. 

People with anxiety and depression often jump to conclusions and repeatedly focus on their negative thoughts (rumination). Unfortunately, this thinking pattern can lead to further mental health issues and, in some cases, addiction. 

The key to controlling the outcome of a negative thought is to remain in the moment. This is the premise of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.

After eight weeks of MBCT therapy, most people feel better and go on to live happy, productive lives. 

Are you ready to experience the benefits of a more mindful way of living? Zinnia Health can help. We offer an advanced approach to addiction and mental health treatment, which includes MBCT. Call us at (855) 430-9439 to find out more. 

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What Is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) uses a combination of cognitive therapy and mindfulness meditation to combat negative thought patterns. 

To understand how it works, let’s explore the two main components of MBCT programs: mindfulness meditation and cognitive therapy. 

Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation is an ancient practice that began in Asia and spread globally. Mindfulness-based meditations focus on the moment. For example, what sounds a person hears, what sensations they experience, and what they feel right here and right now. By developing a habit of staying in the moment through meditation, one can focus their thoughts in a mindful way throughout daily life.

Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the moment by using techniques of intentional awareness. In the case of MBCT, one of these techniques is meditation. MCBT mindfulness meditations encourage a person to explore their feelings with intention. People use these techniques to fully embrace what’s happening without judging or overthinking.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, mindfulness practices may help people recover from substance use disorders and reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Cognitive Therapy 

Cognitive Therapy, also called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is a form of psychotherapy that encourages patients to challenge and change cognitive distortions. This includes automatic thoughts that shape negative emotions, such as jumping to conclusions, overgeneralizing, and mind-reading. CBT reshapes the participant’s perception and interpretation of negative events.

The combination of CBT and mindfulness meditation helps participants shift from a destructive thought pattern to one that cultivates growth. 

Who Developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

MBCT stems from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a technique developed by John Kabat-Zinn. 

Two decades of research into MBSR revealed a lasting decrease in psychological symptoms, a reduction in pain, and improved self-esteem in participants who completed the program.

Doctors Mark Williams, John Teasdale, and Zindel Segal developed a new therapy based on the works of John Kabat-Zinn and published the findings in a book called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression. In this book, they highlight MBCT’s approach, which combines cognitive Therapy and mindfulness meditation

The tools gained from MBCT allow an individual to move past events that trigger a relapse. This includes the ability to regulate thoughts and flip the script.

What Are the Techniques of Mindfulness-Based Therapy?

The techniques implemented in an MBCT session depend on the individuals’ needs and abilities. 

Most often, they include:

  • Mindfulness practices
  • Meditation 
  • Body scan exercises
  • Mindfulness stretching
  • Yoga

Mindfulness Practices

The focus of mindfulness practice is to become aware of the moment. In MBCT therapy, yoga, meditation, and stretching are tools that help a person remain in the moment.


Meditation is the art of directing your thoughts. Some forms of meditation direct your thoughts to specific imagery or feelings. Other forms of meditation instruct you to focus on your breath. In mindfulness meditation, an instructor guides your focus by prompting you to be in the present moment. 

Participants sit in a comfortable position and clear their minds of anything aside from emotions, sensations, and breathing at that moment. 

Meditation stirs the brain in a direction that cultivates focus and not wandering. 

Body Scan Exercises 

Body scanning originates from a technique called “mindfulness of breathing,” practiced by adherents of the Buddhist faith. Like meditation, body scanning involves becoming still and mindfully directing awareness to your body. As the instructor guides you, you will scan each part of your body from your toes to your head and notice sensations without judging them. This helps a person to dissociate emotions from physical bodily sensations and vice versa.

Mindfulness Stretching

Stretching is an exercise that stimulates both the body and the mind. Mindful stretching incorporates two types of stretches: static stretches and ballistic stretches. 

Static stretches are held in a position for a specific amount of time and incorporate active and passive static stretching. Active stretching relies on the muscle, and passive stretching relies on a prop. 

Ballistic stretches incorporate bouncing and quick motion to lengthen the muscles and improve your range of movement. This is especially helpful for those with chronic pain.

One that practices mindful stretching can expect to benefit from increased relaxation and stress reduction.


Yoga derives from an ancient Indian practice that focuses on mental well-being and spiritual connection. There are several styles of yoga, though the four most commonly practiced in the United States are:

  • Asanas, which focus on physical postures 
  • Pranayama, which focuses on breathing techniques
  • Meditation, which focuses on postural stillness
  • Mantrayama, which focuses on repeating specific mantras a number of times

Those who practice yoga can expect to reap multiple benefits, including a healthier heart, lower anxiety, easier weight loss, and mindful eating.

Structure of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is an 8-week program with three main components:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Daily practice

Individual Therapy

At the start of an MBCT program, participants are encouraged to meet with a therapist at least once for an assessment. During this assessment, the participant will discuss their mental health challenges and receive instructions on how to tackle it with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

Group Sessions

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy group sessions last two hours once per week. These classes are offered to no more than 12 participants at a time.

Daily Practice

Each participant is given homework to do daily. This homework includes mindfulness-based exercises such as yoga or therapy. The participant is expected to do this homework for one hour at least six days a week.

What Kind of Patients Can Be Helped Through Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

Anyone can benefit from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, even if they don’t have a diagnosable illness or addiction. 

The lessons outlined in MBCT teach people to remain in the moment and look at what is and not what could be. This type of therapy is beneficial to those under a great deal of stress or anxiety, where their mind tends to wander or fall into a pattern of catastrophizing

Patients Undergoing Drug or Alcohol Rehabilitation

Residents in rehab are often diagnosed with more than one addiction or mental health challenge. This is known as a dual diagnosis. A dual diagnosis is the most challenging to treat since the person simultaneously experiences symptoms of addiction and a mental health disorder. Usually, both conditions share the same symptoms, making diagnosing difficult in a traditional rehab setting.

A rehab like Zinnia Health offers treatment for dual diagnosis disorder, which can include mindfulness-based cognitive Therapy (MBCT). MBCT is most helpful to patients suffering from the following conditions:

  • Depression (including people with major depressive disorder or those with depressive episodes)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders

Traditional mindfulness-based cognitive therapy sessions last eight weeks. However, a study published in the National Libraries of Medicine revealed significant changes in how participants felt after just five weeks.

Zinnia Health is a dual-diagnosis treatment center that addresses addiction, its underlying causes, and its effects. We offer evidence-based therapies to individuals in a group setting or one-on-one. Call us at (855) 430-9439 to schedule a consultation.

How Effective Is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

The effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy continues to unfold even after a person has graduated from the program. 

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy has proven effective in preventing relapse for those experiencing substance abuse disorder, episodes of depression (and recurrent depression), PTSD, and persistent anxiety.

A study published by the National Libraries of Medicine highlighted the effectiveness of MBCT care in those with mild to severe depression. They discovered that those who benefited the most from MBCT were participants with impaired cognition due to severe depression

These participants continued to benefit from meditation practices and therapy sessions in a primary care setting. At the end of the study, 35.6% recovered completely, with less than 3% experiencing worsening symptoms.

In a separate study, individuals with a low Satisfaction with Life Scale score received eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy with an additional two months of follow-up care to treat their symptoms. After completing the trial, participants reported improved cognition and overall well-being. 

What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy helps individuals explore limitless possibilities and potentials that prompt them to live their lives in a more meaningful way. People who complete these programs often discover talents they weren’t aware of. In some cases, they go on to practice other forms of mindful living. 

Additional benefits one can experience after an MBCT program are:

  • Learning how to interrupt negative thoughts. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy’s most significant benefit is learning to recognize negative thought patterns before they change your mood. Everyone has a different way of thinking. By understanding the patterns of your mind, you can stop a negative thought before it has a chance to create negative emotions.
  • Learning how to experience without judgment. Sometimes a head pain is just a head pain. But in those with anxiety, head pain is an omen of disaster. By learning how to shift the mind from a critical and judgmental state to a state of non-judgment, one can deal with this pain in a non-catastrophizing way.
  • Having an additional tool to deal with negative emotions. Some people use drugs and alcohol to deal with the uncomfortable symptoms of a mental health disorder. Mindfulness offers a healthier way to deal with these symptoms, minimizing the risk of abusing substances.
  • Learning alternative ways to view negative issues. Mindfulness helps you hold your negative thoughts in a state of awareness, allowing you to explore other ways of looking at them.

Things to Consider Before Starting Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Before taking the journey through MBCT, there are a few things you should consider:

  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction isn’t a replacement for antidepressants. An MBCT therapist will work with other mental health professionals to determine what kind of maintenance antidepressant you need. Unless the MBCT therapist is a doctor of psychiatry, you will need a psychiatrist to prescribe antidepressants.
  • MBCT is mostly self-directed, meaning you must do the work to see results. You must be motivated and ready for a change for Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy to work.
  • You should be ready to complete the eight-week program and not stop in­-between. It isn’t uncommon for people to feel better before completing this two-month program. However, it is important to stay the course. Leaving early deprives you of essential information that could help you in the long run.
  • MBCT is usually a group activity.  Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is best for those willing to participate in group therapy sessions. In some places, therapists offer MBCT on a private basis, though it isn’t always covered by insurance.
  • You have to do the work. There is a certain level of self-awareness that comes with any mindfulness-based therapy. To have success with Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, you must be willing to do the work. Your therapist will most likely give you exercises to try at home on your own time as well as exercises to do in your sessions. By completing these exercises as directed, you should reach your goals much sooner.

How to Find a Therapist Trained in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

If you believe that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy could be helpful for you, it is essential to find a therapist who is trained in this approach.

Are you or someone you know experiencing treatment-resistant depression or depressive symptoms? Do you also struggle with drug or alcohol addiction? If you answered yes, Zinnia Health can help. 

We offer many types of therapy to prevent drug relapses, depressive relapses and severe episodes of depression. 

Call Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439 to find out whether Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, or any of our additional evidence-based therapies are suitable for you. We have operators standing by 24 hours a day to take your call.

More Psychotherapy Options

These are other types of psychotherapies available: