Treating anxiety, depression and trauma
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a blending of east and west – combining the techniques and theory of Cognitive Therapy along with the Buddhist concept of Mindfulness. Cognitive therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel / act better even if the situation does not change. ‘Mindfulness’ is a common translation of a term from Buddhist psychology that means ‘awareness’ or ‘bare attention’. It is frequently used to refer to a way of paying attention that is sensitive, accepting and independent of any thoughts that may be present. MBCT is increasingly used in therapeutic practice. It encourages clients to process experience without judgement as it arises, helping them to change their relationship with challenging thoughts and feelings, and accept that, even though difficult things may happen, it is possible to work with these in new ways.
Based on Jon Kabat Zinn’s Stress Reduction Program and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy, treatment includes basic education about depression and other mood issues, and several exercises from cognitive therapy that show the links between thinking and feeling and how best to look after yourself when a negative mood threatens to overwhelm you. It also includes simple breathing meditations and yoga stretches to help you become more aware of the present moment, including getting in touch with moment-to-moment changes in the mind and the body.
These techniques work to help you see more clearly the patterns of your mind; and to learn how to recognise when your mood is beginning to go down. It helps break the link between negative mood and the negative thinking that might normally have escalated into a relapse. You develop the capacity to mindfully disengage from distressing mood, and negative thoughts. You find that you can learn to stay in touch with the present moment, without having to ruminate about the past, or agonise about the future.
When a person starts to feel sad or anxious, they tend to react as if the emotions were a problem to be solved; and start to try using critical thinking strategies. When these do not work, it’s easy to just redouble the effort, ending up over-thinking, brooding, ruminating and living in the head. Mindfulness helps a person to enter an alternative mode of mind that includes thinking but is bigger than thinking. It teaches a person to shift mental gears, from the mode of mind dominated by critical thinking (likely to provoke and accelerate downward mood spirals) to another mode of mind in which you experience the world directly, non-conceptually, and non-judgmentally.
Cognitive therapy mixed with Mindfulness training can free people from the seeming power and “truth” of their thoughts, helping them stay in the present, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. In addition, many people dealing with depression, anxiety or trauma are not connected to their bodies. They literally live in their heads. This is a coping mechanism to escape the pain of their feelings — it may have served them in the past, but is no longer serving them. Mindfulness meditation helps a person focus on the present moment and notice where thoughts and emotions are felt in the body. The goal of the treatment is to blend knowledge and awareness; recognizing that we can choose to step out of unhelpful automatic and habitual thought patterns helps reduce our reactivity and allows us to deal more skillfully with challenges in our lives.