Mindfulness has become something of a buzzword. You might have heard of Mindfulness, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). But how do they help and what’s the difference between them?
Mindfulness meditation can be calming but it’s not designed to help you relax. Some people think that they’re doing it wrong if they don't relax. Mindfulness meditation is about taking a step back and being aware of however you’re feeling - maybe relaxed, maybe frustrated, maybe tired. Lots of people do find the meditations calming. However, with mindfulness, you would do them to be more aware of whatever you’re feeling at the time - not specifically to calm yourself.
Gaining skills in mindfulness might help you become more aware of the world around you, how you feel, the urges you experience, and how to take decisions about these urges. It can also provide a new perspective on negative emotions, feelings and bodily sensations. This, in turn, can give new ways of managing them.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was developed by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn. It brought together mindfulness practice and yoga into an eight-week intensive course of group sessions and homework tasks.
Research shows that MBSR can help empower patients with physical ailments like chronic pain, hypertension and gastrointestinal disorders. It can also help with psychological problems such as anxiety and panic.
I mention it here because it was the process of discovering Kabat Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction that changed how Segal, Williams and Teasdale approached their task to create a ‘maintenance’ version of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
Segal, Williams and Teasdale were trying to create a version of CBT that could be used after people had done an initial course of one-to-one therapy to help treat depression. They wanted to prevent relapse in people with recurring depression and give them techniques they could use to maintain the benefits they had gained from CBT without the intensity and cost of weekly therapy sessions.
Their discovery of Kabat-Zinn’s (MBSR) led to their decision to combine mindfulness and CBT techniques. Like MBSR, the MBCT treatment they developed takes place over 8 weeks, in a group setting, with daily homework tasks. As well as mindfulness practices it includes information about depression and cognitive therapy based exercises that explore thinking and its impact on feeling.
MBCT also teaches people to pay attention to the present moment rather than thinking too much about the past or the future. It gives people mindfulness techniques for managing the negative thoughts that CBT shows can start to cause a negative spiral into depression. By learning mindfulness techniques like the body scan, it encourages people to develop awareness of their own body and their personal signs that a depressive episode might be returning.