A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Treatment-Resistant Depression

Psychother Psychosom. 2016;85(2):99-110. doi: 10.1159/000442260. Epub 2016 Jan 26.


Background: Due to the clinical challenges of treatment-resistant depression (TRD), we evaluated the efficacy of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) relative to a structurally equivalent active comparison condition as adjuncts to treatment-as-usual (TAU) pharmacotherapy in TRD.

Methods: This single-site, randomized controlled trial compared 8-week courses of MBCT and the Health Enhancement Program (HEP), comprising physical fitness, music therapy and nutritional education, as adjuncts to TAU pharmacotherapy for outpatient adults with TRD. The primary outcome was change in depression severity, measured by percent reduction in the total score on the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D17), with secondary depression indicators of treatment response and remission.

Results: We enrolled 173 adults; mean length of a current depressive episode was 6.8 years (SD = 8.9). At the end of 8 weeks of treatment, a multivariate analysis showed that relative to the HEP condition, the MBCT condition was associated with a significantly greater mean percent reduction in the HAM-D17 (36.6 vs. 25.3%; p = 0.01) and a significantly higher rate of treatment responders (30.3 vs. 15.3%; p = 0.03). Although numerically superior for MBCT than for HEP, the rates of remission did not significantly differ between treatments (22.4 vs. 13.9%; p = 0.15). In these models, state anxiety, perceived stress and the presence of personality disorder had adverse effects on outcomes.

Conclusions: MBCT significantly decreased depression severity and improved treatment response rates at 8 weeks but not remission rates. MBCT appears to be a viable adjunct in the management of TRD.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy
  • Depressive Disorder, Treatment-Resistant / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mindfulness / methods*
  • Young Adult