Breaking the Cycles of Depression
MBCT, as the name implies, is composed of mindfulness skills and the "thought managing" practices that come out of Cognitive Therapy. It is focused on helping students learn to break the cycle of depression, in which bouts of depression follow one on another. MBCT's particular insight is that, in breaking this cycle, the most important element is not one's ability to control one's emotions (the desire to do this is actually the problem), but one's relationship to those emotions.
Mindfulness is an ancient technique that is embedded in the teachings of many meditation traditions. It is a way of relating to experience which stresses objectivity, in the moment awareness, and acceptance. It is a practice of relating to our own lives with kindness, acceptance, and skillful engagement.
Mindfulness, in the MBCT context, refers to the practice of attachment to depressing thoughts that can turn into whirlpools of depressive rumination. By practicing an objective, accepting stance in relation to even the most difficult of emotions, we learn we can feel safe without manipulating our emotions, that the energy of depression will pass by itself in time, and that our fighting with ourselves only causes the depression to deepen.
MBCT also teaches skills derived from the Cognitive Therapy (CT) tradition, though with a different slant. CT traditionally teaches how to locate negative thoughts, extract them, and replace them with positive thoughts. MBCT, however, with its emphasis on changing the relationship to experience, uses CT skills and exercises to simply note and define negative thoughts in order to practice being with them mindfully, i.e., objectively, in the moment, and with acceptance
The MBCT class is not a passive exercise. It can be hard work to learn to accept what many individuals with depression have learned to fight all their lives. Meditation is actively engaging one's experience, and choosing where one's attention is focused and how one responds. Cognitive therapy is an active engagement with the mind in order to have better information from which to make more informed, nuanced, and skillful decisions.
By the end of class, and with ongoing practice, most students are rewarded for this hard work with a life that is less impacted by depression, and less prone to the chronic cycles of chronic unhappiness.
We are very appreciative and grateful for the work of John Kabat-Zinn, Zindal Siegal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale. Their efforts underlie many of the programs that our consortium offers. If you'd like more information about MBCT, please visit www.mbct.com.