Mindfulness Courses - MBSR and MBCT Explained

Although Mindfulness is primarily rooted in Eastern spiritual traditions, in recent years it has been brought together with aspects of western psychology to form a secular educational programme. Taught over 8 weeks, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) programmes promote self-awareness, personal development and general well-being.

The 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Programme (MBSR)

The 8-week MBSR was developed in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center (UMass) by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Since then the programme has been adapted by others in various psychological and medical settings to address the specific health needs of different groups as well as being adapted for more general use in the community, for example mindfulness for adolescents, and in other arenas, such as prisons.  These adaptations do not interfere with the original components of the course structure – a pre-course orientation, 8 weekly classes of between 2 and 3 hours in length and a full Day of Mindfulness practice between weeks 5 & 7 of the 8 week course.

Extensive research has shown that MBSR is beneficial to patients with medical conditions (including chronic illness and pain, high blood pressure,cancer, vascular and respiratory disorders and many others), psychological distress (including anxiety, panic, depression, fatigue, and sleep disturbances) as well as in preventative medicine and wellness programmes.  MBSR has become part of a newly recognised field of integrative medicine within behavioural medicine and general health care. Since it’s inception, more than 20,000 people have completed the MBSR programme at UMass. There are currently MBSR programmes running in 240 hospitals in the USA.

The 8-week Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

These courses have been developed by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale. Based on the MBSR programme and including aspects of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), the MBCT course was originally designed specifically for people who experience recurrent bouts of depression.   Participants are taught skills to assist them in disengaging from habitual ‘automatic’ unhelpful cognitive patterns. The pattern of mind that makes people vulnerable to depressive relapse is rumination, in which the mind repetitively reruns negative thoughts. The core skill that MBCT is teaching is to intentionally ‘shift mental gears’. These Mindfulness-Based courses are not group therapy, but are educational in nature.

There is little emphasis in MBCT, as in conventional CBT, on striving to change one’s beliefs or the content of one’s thoughts. The focus is on training to become more aware, moment by moment, of physical sensations and of thoughts and feelings as mental events. This provides a ‘de-centred’ relationship to thoughts and feelings in which one can see them as aspects of experience which move through our awareness, rather that a fixed reality.

“The UK National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recently endorsed MBCT as an effective treatment for prevention of relapse. Research has shown that people who have been clinically depressed 3 or more times (sometimes over twenty years or more) find that taking the programme and learning these skills helps to reduce considerably their chances that depression will return. The evidence from two randomized clinical trials of MBCT indicates that it reduces rates of relapse by 50% among patients who suffer from recurrent depression.” (Ma and Teasdale, 2004., Teasdale et al 2000).

An amalgamated version of the two above named courses has been developed by the Centre of Mindfulness Research and Practice at the University of Wales, Bangor. They have called their 8-week programme MBCT for Stress using aspects of both MBSR and MBCT for a broader population. The course borrows heavily from MBSR and involves some basic aspects of cognitive behavioural therapy, such as learning about thinking patterns and the links between thought and emotion.

Mindfulness Based Approaches have also been used to treat or to augment or support the treatment of addiction (MBRP - Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention), cancer, eating disorders, chronic pain, anxiety, suicide, psychosis, borderline personality disorder, relationship enhancement in couples (MBRE) and the list is still growing!