Eric K. Mason
March 10, 2015
MBCT and Preventing Relapse of Depression
Research shows that about 80% of people who experience depression will relapse at some time after they have recovered. The effectiveness of treatments, such as medications may dimension over time, while some people do not respond to certain types of treatments or medications at all. However, recent research has shown that MBCT or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may be effective in preventing the relapse of depression. Indeed, some research indicates that it is as effective as antidepressant medication for the prevention of depression relapse. One study pointed out that MBCT reduced relapse by 43 percent compared to 34 percent for participants, overall. Other research has found that MBCT often works well for those with an early history of childhood abuse. Those with childhood trauma often have had depression longer and have tried many different treatments modalities to no avail; therefore, they are often more willing than others to go to greater lengths to control their depression (such as sitting for 40 minutes and meditating everyday). Furthermore, according to a recent investigation at the Department of Veteran Affairs, MBCT seems most effective on depression over other health conditions.
Those at risk for developing depression tend to have negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves. They use such thoughts to judge themselves in an overly negative manner which contributes to the rise of depression. MBCT helps people counteract such negative thoughts and beliefs by teaching them “to recognize what’s happening, engage with it in a different way and respond to with equanimity and compassion.” Mindfulness in its simplest form can be described as the act of living in the present moment, while observing one’s “thoughts and emotions from moment to moment without judging or becoming caught up in them. MBCT was developed over a decade ago by two psychologists specifically to teach people to disengage from certain deeply held dysfunctional beliefs that are common amongst those with depression.
In addition to individual counseling sessions involving CBT, MBCT incorporates elements of group therapy, yoga, and mindfulness exercises. Homework assignments are often given, in which the client is instructed to practice doing routine activities, such as household chores, but mindfully with full attention to what is happening from moment to moment. MBCT is designed to take eight weeks to complete the full program.
The group based element of MBCT may be of particular value. People with depression tend to self-isolate which, in turn, leads to increased feelings of loneliness that may exacerbate depression. Through the interaction with others, they may begin to realize that their depressive thoughts are not unique per se, and simply a symptom of a condition they all share.
Researchers have noted that MBCT is appropriate for people trying to avoid medications for health reasons, such as pregnant women. One study showed that postpartum depression had relapse rate of 18 percent for those practicing MBCT versus 30 percent for this in an earlier study that did not investigate MBCT. Other populations for which MBCT can be used include school-aged children. A study in Belgium reported that symptoms of depression rates for school-aged children using MBCT were reduced to 16 percent versus 31 percent in a control group.
Although there is a great deal of research which shows the effectiveness of MBCT, researchers are not exactly how it works. Some postulate that MBCT’s main benefit is its ability to “increase self-compassion and decrease experiential avoidance.” Additionally, it is helpful in teaching one to be more accepting of thoughts and feelings without judgment, while also decreasing the rumination of negative thoughts. In so doing, it teaches one to live in the here and now.
Lu, S. (2015, March). Friends wanted. Monitor on Psychology.
Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/