23 August 2022

MBCT – for depression and anxiety

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) isnow a recommended treatment for relieving mental health issues, based on guidelines by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is a clinical form of mindfulness, similar to cognitive behavioural therapy but not the same
  • The rollout of MBCT on a societal scale has the potential to revolutionise how we view and manage mental health issues
  • MBCT is a non-drug treatment from the field of psychology, which helps to combat the unhelpful thinking patterns that feed many people’s mental health issues

Recently published NICE guidelines have placed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) at the forefront of improving mental health in society, with NHS GP’s set to recommend MBCT more widely as a front-line treatment for mental health issues. Though this will likely take several years to fully implement, MBCT has already been successfully used as a mental health treatment for several decades. Our fully qualified MBCT teachers at Wellbeing Partners explain:

MBCT, if you do not know of it already, is an acronym you will be hearing regularly in the very near future as the treatment is more widely rolled out across society, and as we embrace this novel and extraordinary approach to how we relate to our thoughts and feelings.

Most people know mindfulness as a relaxation tool but MBCT is something different. MBCT is a fusion of mindfulness and cognitive therapy developed to combat recurring depression and it has been shown to also have a positive impact on a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety. The treatment gives us a greater understanding of our own unhelpful thinking patterns and how it is these thoughts can make us feel stressed, anxious, alarmed, frightened, ashamed, guilty, paranoid, and can eventually lead to mental health issues.

Here are some of the main tools and techniques we can learn from Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy:

MBCT teaches us to relate to our thoughts differently: “Thoughts are not facts”

The greatest gift that MBCT gives people is the ability to relate to thoughts differently.

Many of us can get into the habit of “overthinking” a lot of the time – perhaps anxiously fantasising about how our work or personal life might go wrong, criticising ourselves or others for not being good enough, or feeling like things in our life will never improve. And because our thoughts are our inner voice which speaks to us, these thoughts can seem like the truth. We may spend time and energy battling these thoughts, or giving into them, increasing our unhappiness and anxiety as we try.

MBCT teaches us to recognise that our thoughts are our opinions, and we can choose how to respond to these opinions, or perhaps let them go. This technique is both a mindset shift and a skill that is learned over a number of sessions with a qualified and experienced MBCT teacher.

Emotional Intelligence: “How am I feeling?”

Emotional intelligence is a coveted but elusive skill, one that is important for our professional and personal lives. MBCT is a doorway into better understanding of how we are feeling and gives us the tools to use our emotions intelligently. Unless prompted, we are rarely conscious of how we are feeling and how our emotions are shaping our behaviour, and this can sometimes have unfortunate consequences. 

Emotions like fear, anger, frustration, shame, guilt, resentment can build up over hours, days, weeks, months even years. These emotions are often wrongly-labelled as “bad” feelings, or negative emotions that should be avoided or swallowed. But emotions are neither good nor bad, just a bunch of signals in the amygdala part of the brain that are designed to help us navigate life.

Taking actions purely based on these emotions can sometimes have a bad outcome, but emotions themselves can be looked at differently, reframed, as important information for us to pay attention to. By focusing our attention on our current emotional experience, MBCT allows a greater knowledge of how we are feeling in real time, which regulates our emotional energy if we are stressed and gives us a chance to choose how to respond to situations, experiences and people in a more informed way.  Again, this is a skill that is learned as a part of a MBCT course over a number of sessions with a qualified teacher. The outcome of a greater understanding of our emotional state is a more robust sense of calm and equilibrium, one that MBCT teaches us to cultivate and to be able to call upon when required.

Recognising the Good

Much of the conversation around MBCT concerns mental health issues. However, there is another side to MBCT which is equally important and that is how it connects us to the good in life.

Humans evolved to have a “negativity bias”, meaning we find it easier to focus on that which we find threatening or difficult.  MBCT helps create balance by teaching us to pay attention to the good, the richness and variety of life, those little moments of joy that might otherwise be missed when we are caught up in ruminative thinking patterns.  The sound of a loved one’s voice, the exquisite tase of our favourite food, the beautiful skyline or anything else that comes through the senses.

Being in the present moment helps us experience these small moments of joy as they are happening, enjoying the emotions that these moments create.  And these small moments add up.  Psychologist Rick Hanson calls this “hardwiring happiness”, the process of training ourselves to focus on what makes us calm and content, what brings us happiness, especially the smaller moments that we might not usually notice or value.

A multi-faceted approach

MBCT provides a subtle but multi-faceted approach to understanding how our mind works, and how we can accept and manage our thoughts, and the energy from our emotions, in a healthier and more positive way.

For more information, or to book an MBCT session or group course for your organisation, please contact us at Wellbeing Partners – [email protected]

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