Mindfulness practice originates from traditional Eastern philosophies and is now becoming widely incorporated into western settings. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as:
“Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to things as they are”.
Mindfulness meditation and cognitive therapy exercises have been combined to form new approaches to working with distress. These approaches increase a person's capacity to be more present more of the time, increasing opportunities for happiness and pleasure, as well as enabling the person to notice and disengage from negative thoughts, decreasing the risk of profound episodes of suffering.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a group programme that combines mindfulness meditation with cognitive therapy in order to help people manage problems with depression and stress. It is recommended within national health guidelines as suitable for people who repeatedly suffer with depression.
Over the past 10 years MBCT has become increasingly available within health services as the advantages of using this approach have become more established. Its popularity has increased as people are drawn to the central message of MBCT - that our lives are immeasurably impoverished by our habitual tendency to be on ‘automatic pilot', during which the richness of momentary experience passes unnoticed.
MBCT helps us develop an alternative way of being with experience as we learn skills to more fully engage with our present experience, to be ‘in the moment'.
MBCT helps us recognise unhelpful patterns of reacting to events within our lives. Through meditation and cognitive therapy, participants learn to disentangle themselves from negative thinking, and to let go of automatic and habitual tendencies to overcome difficulties by thinking about them, or trying to suppress them. Unfortunately, both these responses can simply exacerbate difficulties. MBCT raises awareness of these processes, and the skills needed to positively change this.
MBCT can help individuals to be better able to:
Evidence shows that MBCT can work powerfully for people who are currently well but appear particularly vulnerable to future depressive periods; or for those who are currently suffering through a state of protracted depression. From January 2013 a new local initiative began to offer this therapy throughout local services.
Reducing vulnerability to depression: Evidence accumulated over the last 18 years from studies in a variety of contexts, shows that MBCT has a powerful effect on reducing vulnerability to episodes of depression in people who have recovered but who remain particularly prone to this problem. The effect may be equivalent to continuing antidepressant medication and seems to come partly through a reduction in rumination and worry. The strength of this evidence led to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (2004 & 2009) to recommend MBCT for relapse reduction in people who have recovered from depressive episodes.
Treating current depression: More recent evidence, largely over the last 8 years, has shown that MBCT also reduces symptoms and improves quality of life in people currently suffering episodes of depression. The effect of MBCT in treating current depression has been shown to be as strong as its effect in reducing vulnerability, again through reducing unhelpful rumination. Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust ‘Topic Expert Group' on NICE guidance in depression supports its use in this group of people.