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April 28, 2015 at 10:51 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Mindfulness Therapy: CBT Adapted for Depression Reduces Relapse by 43%! Could MBCT help you?

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

Mindfulness therapy: it's what everyone is talking about in the medical community as a means to treat depression and improve psychological well-being.  What is mindfulness therapy?  Does it work?  Is it an alternative to medication for the treatment of depression?

So, what is mindfulness therapy? Basically, it's a therapeutic technique used to improve the mood by combining the practices of cognitive behavioral therapy (also known as CBT) with meditation. 

CBT for Depression

A form of therapy between a psychologist and a patient which involves an in-depth examination of the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviors, CBT is used primarily for the treatment of depression and anxiety, but it has also been used for personality disorders, eating disorders, sleep disorders and substance abuse.

In CBT, irrational beliefs such as "I am worthless," or "It is hopeless" are challenged and studied as they lead to negative feelings and depressed/anxious behavior. As negative patterns are recognized, work is done to re-establish them with positive outcomes. Homework and practice in these techniques are common.

As for studies backing the effectiveness of this type of therapy, there are many. In fact, CBT has even been shown to change brain functioning - suggesting that the brain is actually physically improving in regards to dysfunctional tendencies and chemistry. (Take a look at my past blog to see more about these changes.)

CBT+ : The Move to Mindfulness

The move from CBT (which has been well-entrenched in psychology) to the development of "Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy" (MBCT) was a movement lead by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale. While recognizing the power of CBT alone, the team wanted build upon the already successful program by adding meditation (and all its well researched benefits) for even greater effect. Particularly for patients dealing with depression.

While antidepressants and standard talk therapy helped patient to feel better, too many of these people relapsed and found themselves right back where they started down the road.  It was the old "give a man a fish..." mentality. What they wanted was to "teach patients to fish" for a better chance at a long term recovery.

In their pivotal work, Segal, Williams and Teasdale found that in times of remission from full-blown depression, even episodes of mild sadness risked triggering old negative feelings and behaviors sending patients right back where they started. However, they wrestled with the idea that sadness is also considered an inevitable part of the normal human experience. They couldn't just eliminate the sadness from people's lives. BUT, they thought, they could help people have a different relationship with their sadness. 

Enter the concept of mindfulness, which Segal describes as "awareness and attention to the present moment without judgment."

Beginning with a process of  simple exercises in self awareness and meditation, MBCT exercises progress to awareness of negative emotions in similar fashion as traditional CBT, but with better options for dealing with normal sadness and negative emotions for depressed patients in remission. 

MBCT Outcomes?

As this new practice increases, research confirming it enhanced benefits is coming. Already,in a two year trial published recently in the British journal The Lancet, it was found that MBCT reduced relapse of depression in 43% of subjects - similar to published data for antidepressants, but without the risks!

If you struggle with depression, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy may be able to help.  More importantly, however, it may prevent relapse of depression episodes. Be aware, however, that this requires willingness, patience, and introspective thought. It's not a "quick fix." The goal is long-term relief and a good, steady, long-lasting foundation takes time to build.

Live, and live well!

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