Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was designed to treat depression. It has been so effective that the British Medical Service considers it a treatment of choice for depression. In a prior post http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/dealing-with-major-depression-when-drugs-fail/ the effectiveness of MBCT for depression was discussed. The relief of depression was evident even with depressed individuals who did not respond to antidepressant drugs.
Depression is characterized by negative mood states. But, depression is also supported by thought processes which tend to emphasize the negative. In addition the depressed individual tends to particularly pay attention to negative stimuli. They even contribute to their negativity by interpreting ambiguous situations as negative and even tend to see their own thoughts in a negative light. This creates a negative downward spiral where a depressed mood is interpreted negatively, for instance as indicative of low self-worth, which increases the depression, where they pick out the negative to focus on from all that is available in daily life, increasing depression, where even neutral events are seen as negative, increasing depression. So, depression leads to more depression which leads to more depression etc., a negative spiral into the depths of depression.
MBCT combines cognitive therapy for depression, which aims to alter the thought processes that reinforce the depression, and mindful meditation practice, which enhances focus on the present moment. Since depression is often characterized by rumination which is repetitive thoughts about negative past or future events, mindfulness training by its emphasis on staying in the present moment tends to markedly reduce ruminative thinking. (http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/depression/ ). Hence, there are clear reasons for MBCT’s effectiveness as it combines two components, CBT and meditation, each of which individually are effective for relief of depression and prevention of relapse.
It is obvious that depression emphasizes the negative. In fact, depressed individuals are not only characterized by increased negativity they also have very little if any positive feelings or thoughts. One way that MBCT is thought to ameliorate depression is by increasing positive thoughts as well as decreasing negative thoughts. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness training promotes upward spirals of positive affect and cognition: multilevel and autoregressive latent trajectory modeling analyses”
Garland and colleagues investigated how MBCT works on a day to day basis in improving positive mood and thoughts in depressed individuals in remission and find that it creates a positive upward spiral of thoughts and feelings, the exact opposite of untreated depression.
They found as others have that MBCT tended to increase positive thoughts and feelings. But, in looking day to day after the end of the active treatment phase they observed that each day the positive feelings tended to increase the positive thoughts and feelings on the next day which in turn increased the positive thoughts and feelings on the next day etc. leading to an upward spiral where positivity led to greater positivity which led to even greater positivity. Hence the combination of CBT with mindfulness training creates an emotionally driven upward spiral by stimulating positive thoughts and feelings among people with deficits in positive feelings.
Hence MBCT relieves the negative thoughts and feelings and in addition produces a cascade in the opposite direction of positive thoughts and feelings. No wonder it’s so effective.
So, practice mindfulness and spiral up!