Mindfulness cognitive therapy (or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, MBCT) is a blend of two very different approaches — cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which focuses on changing our thoughts in order to change our behaviors, and the meditative practice of mindfulness, a process of identifying our thoughts on a moment-to-moment basis while trying not to pass judgment on them. While cognitive behavioral therapy has always emphasized the end result of change of one’s thoughts, mindfulness really looks at how a person thinks — the process of thinking — to help one be more effective in changing negative thoughts.
This is a newer (1979) add-on approach to traditional cognitive behavioral therapy and has recently gained more attention as people look to simplify their lives, and more people learn of the benefits of meditation.
Does any of this work? Well, according to new research, yes.
Coelho et. al. (2007) looked at the research into mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and found only four relevant studies that examined the effectiveness of this approach:
The current evidence from the randomized trials suggests that, for patients with 3 or more previous depressive episodes, MBCT has an additive benefit to usual care. However, because of the nature of the control groups, these findings cannot be attributed to MBCT-specific effects.
The researchers are trying to say, look, we think the research that has looked at MBCT has found some positive results (for those 3 or more depressive episodes — in other words, people with more chronic, treatment resistant type of depression). But none of the research could say it was the MBCT or some non-specific general therapeutic effects often found in psychotherapy treatment studies.
So the answer of its effectiveness remains elusive, but people will continue to pursue MBCT regardless.
Coelho, H.F. (2007). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: evaluating current evidence and informing future research. J Consult Clin Psychol., 75(6):1000-5.