Using Mindfulness to Treat Depression

Daniel Goleman explains how Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy gives people the tools to recognize and talk back to negative thoughts.

For years, researchers have been studying how Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)—an 8-week mindfulness-based program that draws on cognitive behavioral therapy—can provide relief for those with chronic depression and anxiety. 

But what is it, exactly, that makes MBCT so powerful? In this video from Big Think, psychologist and author Daniel Goleman breaks down the science behind combining mindfulness with psychotherapy to treat depression. 

Disempowering depressing thoughts

Cognitive therapy is considered a gold standard treatment for depression—it teaches patients how to notice when they are mired negative self-talk and redirect that thinking. When combined with mindfulness, individuals can work on noticing negative thought loops—not attempting to fix the content of the thoughts, but redirecting from them.

“Instead of getting sucked into our emotions or our thoughts, which is what happens when we’re depressed or anxious, we see them as those thoughts again, or those feelings again, and that disempowers them,” Goleman explains.

“Instead of getting sucked into our emotions or our thoughts, which is what happens when we’re depressed or anxious, we see them as those thoughts again, or those feelings again, and that disempowers them.”

Combining mindfulness with cognitive therapy

“Meditation generally makes people feel more positively and helps diminish anxiety, but it becomes particularly powerful when it’s combined with a psychotherapy,” Goleman says.

The combination of mindfulness and cognitive therapy is what makes MBCT so potent, Goleman says, as mindfulness helps you notice your feelings and cognitive therapy helps you work through them.

“You can develop a habit of not letting those thoughts take you over, but countering them with actual evidence from your life that says, ‘Oh they’re not true, I don’t have to believe them,’ and that is very relieving.”

A review of nine clinical trials analyzing people with severe depression found MBCT reduced a patient’s chances of relapsing for up to 60 weeks, regardless of their sex, age, education or relationship status. The analysis compared MBCT with routine treatments for depression, including antidepressants. 

“Mindfulness and other meditations, particularly combined with cognitive therapy, work just as well for anxiety or depression as the medications do, but they don’t have those side effects,” Goleman concludes.

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  • Editor-in-Chief Barry Boyce
  • September 13, 2016