Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) was initially developed as a maintenance version of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Receiving a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy takes place over a number of weeks but once it is complete, you often need something to help you prevent relapse.
I’ve been on Citalopram for 15 years. It hasn’t been an easy ride. Recently I’ve been seeking out new ways to help me manage the recurring bouts of severe depression and anxiety that I’ve experienced most of my life. Over the next few weeks I’ll be blogging about my experience of a course of MBCT.
One of the most important parts of the treatment was the way it developed – each week we built upon our learning and understanding from the previous week. Learning to use MBCT is something we have to experience and practice week-by-week.
While I hope to give people a sense of what MBCT is, and possibly some new perspectives or insights, reading about it is no replacement for receiving a course and getting the practical experience.
I’ll cover each session as we did. I want to recreate something of this sense of building and discovery that we experienced. I would encourage you to read the posts in order.
So let’s get started with the first week.
- Developing awareness
- Being with our experience
- Choosing how best to respond
They emphasised that it can take time for you to understand the point of what you are doing. They encouraged us to stick with it and come each week, even if at the time we don’t feel up to it, or don’t see the point. This was really useful. As the course starts, it isn’t always clear exactly how it will help. The encouragement to just do something, to just put one foot in front of the other without thinking about it and questioning it too much can be really helpful.
We started by looking at dried fruit. We were each given a cranberry and asked to spend time exploring how it looked, its texture and its smell as if we had never seen one before. We were asked to put it in our mouths and see what that felt like and then, finally, to bite it, to chew it and to notice how that felt, before taking the conscious decision to swallow it. Give it a go with your next mouthful of food. For me, this activity opened my eyes to my tendency to eat fast without really appreciating it.
After we had done this, we talked about how it felt to be more aware of the experience of eating. Liam explained how the activity helped illustrate, in a really practical way, how much time we spend doing things on automatic pilot, behaving mechanically without really being aware of what’s going on. While the body is doing one thing, the mind is wandering off elsewhere.
Alice explained how this ‘autopilot’ can be difficult if you have suffered from depression in the past. Bits of negative thinking are more likely to go unnoticed and we can slip into well worn grooves of thought that lead to stronger feelings of sadness. By the time these really surface, they are much stronger and harder to deal with.
She said that, by being fully aware of an experience and how it feels, you can change the experience – in terms of the cranberry, this made a lot of sense – I have never tasted such a cranberry tasting cranberry as that one!
Some people said that they experience feelings of boredom and frustration during the activity – ‘I’m sick of looking at this cranberry.’ They were worried they were doing something ‘wrong’ – but Alice explained the point was not to have any particular experience, but just to be aware of whatever our experience was.
The main thing at this stage was to realise how much of life slips by without us really being aware of what is going on. Missing out on the good means life isn’t as rich as it might be, and missing out on the bad means we’re not in such a good position to take action and depression can creep up on us. How to take action is what would come later in the course.