Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a practice developed from the application of Buddhist meditation techniques in medicine. Initially aimed at reducing the number of relapses in patients with major depression, it is now part of the mainstream of western healthcare as a therapy for both mental and physical health problems.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy uses psycho-education and encourages patients to practice mindfulness meditation. A core goal is to develop metacognitive awareness, which is the ability to experience cognitions and emotions as mental events that pass through the mind and may or may not be related to external reality. The focus is not to change ‘dysfunctional’ thoughts but to learn to experience them as internal events separated from the self.
Mindfulness involves learning to pay attention to the present moment in a particular, non-judgmental and deliberate way to lessen the damage and unhappiness caused by intrusive, distressing thoughts and memories.
We are often unaware of what we are doing. For example, when driving a car or doing everyday tasks we tend to be thinking of other things such as what we need to do tomorrow or what we have done in the past rather than on the details of the present activity. By becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations from moment to moment we give ourselves the possibility of greater freedom and control of our thoughts. We can avoid relapsing into ways of thinking that may have caused problems in the past.
Mindfulness aims to bring our attention back to the current moment and to notice the sensations associated with the current action.
The therapy used to achieve this is Mindfulness Meditation which focuses primarily on breathing. Every time the mind wanders and other thoughts intrude, the attention is brought back to focus on the act and physical sensations of breathing. With regular practice, once we have learnt how to be mindful of our breathing, physical sensations and routine daily activities, we can then learn to be mindful and more accepting of even our most disturbing or distressing thoughts and feelings which can greatly increase our ability to enjoy our lives.
Even in times of intense distress, mindfulness offers a way of observing and accepting disturbing and intrusive thoughts without being overwhelmed by them.
“Think of your mind as the surface of a lake or an ocean. There are always waves on the water…The water’s waves are churned up by winds which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just as do the winds of stress and change in our lives which stir up waves in our mind. It’s possible to find shelter from much of the wind that agitates the mind. You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn 2004