If you’ve suffered from repeated bouts of depression, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may help. Read on to find out about this up-and-coming method for overcoming negative thoughts and rebuilding mental health...
An increasingly popular treatment for depression combines one of the oldest mental practices with one of the newest. And for those who’ve suffered more than one depressive episode, it offers new hope for preventing relapse.
In mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), patients learn to practice mindfulness – a method of focusing the mind on the present moment, taken in part from Buddhist meditation techniques.
They also undergo cognitive therapy, a form of psychotherapy that involves identifying and changing faulty thought patterns.
Put the two together, and you have a valuable method of keeping depression at bay, says Zindel Segal, Ph.D., a psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto and one MBCT's originators.
It’s a growing trend in the U.S., and mental-health researchers around the world are studying it as well.
In a 2010 Australian study published in Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 39 people with a history of repeated depression or chronic unhappiness took part in an 8-week MBCT course.
Their levels of depression significantly decreased throughout the treatment, and the benefits continued for two years afterward.
Other research has found similar conclusions.
In a 2008 British study, patients with recurrent depression who practiced MBCT were less likely to relapse, and many were able to reduce or discontinue medication.
In a 2010 study in Switzerland, patients who had suffered from three previous bouts of depression had far fewer relapses when MBCT training was added to their usual therapy.
That effectiveness against relapse is important: If you have a history of depression, the odds that you’ll experience it again are high.
“After two episodes [of depression], the risk of having another is 70%. After three episodes, it rises to 90%,” says psychologist Maura Kenny, a pre-eminent researcher on the topic and a leader of the Australian study.
What’s more, later episodes of depression tend to be more severe and closer together, often occurring just months apart.
MBCT aims to break this pattern by teaching people who’ve recovered from depression the skills they need to stay well.
For those at risk, “MBCT is a major advance,” Kenny says.
Getting control over thoughts
MBCT's mindfulness component, which for some may help even without cognitive therapy, makes patients more aware of depressing thoughts and sad feelings as they occur.
On the surface, that doesn’t necessarily sound like a good thing.
“People often worry that they’re just going to be drawn further into these thoughts,” Segal says.
But there’s a fundamental difference between mindfulness and depressed thinking.
If you’re prone to depression, you're more likely to do a lot of ruminating – brooding over bad things that happened in the past or problems in the present. This can make you feel more depressed as your mind is helplessly swept up in negative thoughts.
“You might know all too well that your negative, ruminative thinking is causing problems, but you don’t know how to escape it,” Kenny says.
Though mindfulness doesn’t wipe out these thoughts, it helps a sufferer take a step back from them so they aren’t overwhelming.
When you observe thoughts – rather than being carried away by them – you have more power to choose which ones to react to and which to ignore, Segal explains.
If you practice mindfulness regularly, you’ll be better at noticing when you get caught up in dysfunctional ways of thinking and learn to break free from those habits, Segal says.
You can become more aware of the world around you instead of always living in your head.
What’s more, you’ll learn to accept yourself as you, and not be your harshest critic, he adds.
Ultimately, you feel happier with your life as it is instead of always wishing things were different.
Mindfulness in action
To understand how mindfulness works, Segal suggests a simple exercise adapted from a book he co-authored, The Mindful Way Through Depression (Guilford Press).
The exercise involves two ways of “knowing” your hands.
First, think about your hands without looking at them.
In your mind’s eye, you may find yourself judging them as well, perhaps wishing your fingers were slimmer or disliking dark spots that give away your age.
Now, using the principles of mindfulness, experience your hands in a less-judgmental way.
“Pay attention to the sensations in your hands without looking at them,” Segal says.
Note any tingling in your fingertips or tactile sensations coming from your hands.
Does the fabric of your pants feel smooth or scratchy against your palms?
Is the air passing over the backs of your hands warm or cool?
When experiencing your hands mindfully, don’t analyze why your hands feel this way or judge whether they should. Simply notice and accept that they do.
In much the same way, you can use mindfulness to experience thoughts and feelings without judging or analyzing them.
For example, you might notice yourself thinking, “I’m no good.”
But instead of reacting to that thought with other negative thoughts and feelings, simply observe it passing through your mind, like a cloud floating across the sky, Segal says.
Don’t expect to master the process overnight.
“It’s hard, and it takes practice,” Kenny says. In time, however, “you can learn to disentangle yourself from depressive ruminating. And that can have beneficial effects on your mood.”
Mindfulness has been part of Buddhist tradition for millennia. It’s a skill that anyone can learn, without formal training.
“You can certainly practice mindfulness on your own and teach yourself to use it in real-life situations,” Segal says. His book, which comes with a CD, is a good starting place. He also recommends the books of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., who pioneered the use of mindfulness in Western medicine for reducing stress and enhancing health.
In addition, you can find a wealth of free resources online, including:
Segal’s Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
Center for Mindfulness, University of California-San Diego
Mindful Awareness Research Center, UCLA
Working with a therapist
If you’ve had repeated episodes of depression and are trying to avoid a relapse, you may benefit from full-fledged MBCT, which involves the help of a trained professional.
When brooding has become a deeply ingrained habit, breaking it is easier with a therapist to guide you, Segal says.
Also, as you become more mindful, you may become more aware of issues in your life to discuss with a professional.
“For example, as you practice mindfulness, you may become aware of sad feelings and notice that every time those feelings come up, you start remembering your parents’ divorce and blaming yourself for it,” Segal says.
The MBCT program developed by Segal and his colleagues consists of eight weekly, 2-hour group classes with a trained instructor.
“However, the most important work is done alone at home between classes,” Segal says.
Participants spend 40 minutes a day, six days a week, practicing mindfulness with tapes that guide them through exercises.
For instance, the tape might lead them through a technique known as a body scan, in which the participant focuses mindful awareness on one body part after another.
|Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not reflect those of Peacefmonline.com. Peacefmonline.com accepts no responsibility legal or otherwise for their accuracy of content. Please report any inappropriate content to us, and we will evaluate it as a matter of priority.|