Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: theory and practice

Can J Psychiatry. 2012 Feb;57(2):63-9. doi: 10.1177/070674371205700202.


Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioural therapy with mindfulness-based stress reduction into an 8-session group program. Initially conceived as an intervention for relapse prevention in people with recurrent depression, it has since been applied to various psychiatric conditions. Our paper aims to briefly describe MBCT and its putative mechanisms of action, and to review the current findings about the use of MBCT in people with mood and anxiety disorders. The therapeutic stance of MBCT focuses on encouraging patients to adopt a new way of being and relating to their thoughts and feelings, while placing little emphasis on altering or challenging specific cognitions. Preliminary functional neuroimaging studies are consistent with an account of mindfulness improving emotional regulation by enhancing cortical regulation of limbic circuits and attentional control. Research findings from several randomized controlled trials suggest that MBCT is a useful intervention for relapse prevention in patients with recurrent depression, with efficacy that may be similar to maintenance antidepressants. Preliminary studies indicate MBCT also shows promise in the treatment of active depression, including treatment-resistant depression. Pilot studies have also evaluated MBCT in bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders. Patient and clinician resources for further information on mindfulness and MBCT are provided.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Depressive Disorder / prevention & control
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Functional Neuroimaging / psychology
  • Humans
  • Meditation / methods*
  • Meditation / psychology
  • Secondary Prevention