Mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2011 Aug;124(2):102-19. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2011.01704.x. Epub 2011 Apr 28.


Fjorback LO, Arendt M, Ørnbøl E, Fink P, Walach H. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy - a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.

Objective: To systematically review the evidence for MBSR and MBCT.

Method: Systematic searches of Medline, PsycInfo and Embase were performed in October 2010. MBSR, MBCT and Mindfulness Meditation were key words. Only randomized controlled trials (RCT) using the standard MBSR/MBCT programme with a minimum of 33 participants were included.

Results: The search produced 72 articles, of which 21 were included. MBSR improved mental health in 11 studies compared to wait list control or treatment as usual (TAU) and was as efficacious as active control group in three studies. MBCT reduced the risk of depressive relapse in two studies compared to TAU and was equally efficacious to TAU or an active control group in two studies. Overall, studies showed medium effect sizes. Among other limitations are lack of active control group and long-term follow-up in several studies.

Conclusion: Evidence supports that MBSR improves mental health and MBCT prevents depressive relapse. Future RCTs should apply optimal design including active treatment for comparison, properly trained instructors and at least one-year follow-up. Future research should primarily tackle the question of whether mindfulness itself is a decisive ingredient by controlling against other active control conditions or true treatments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms / diagnosis
  • Affective Symptoms / therapy*
  • Behavior Control / classification
  • Behavior Control / methods*
  • Chronic Disease / psychology
  • Chronic Disease / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / standards
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Care
  • Mental Health
  • Mood Disorders / therapy*
  • Patient Selection
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sample Size
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Self-Evaluation Programs
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome