Get Parents Out of the Dumps with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“a lot of the work is about learning to make peace with our imperfections. Because we’re going to do things that are going to land our kids in therapy, we’re gonna do things that hurt our kids. We can beat ourselves up. But if, instead, we were able to make peace with our imperfections and begin to regulate our emotional state, we can be calmer and more present for our kids and cultivate some self-compassion.” – Elisha Goldstein


Clinically diagnosed depression is the most common form of mental illness, affecting over 6% of the population. In general, it involves feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness, irritability or frustration, loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, sleep disturbances, tiredness and lack of energy, anxiety, agitation, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren’t your responsibility, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts or completed suicide. Needless to say individuals with depression are miserable and need help.


Depression does not occur in isolation. When an individual in a family is depressed, it affects all of the members of the family. When it is a parent, it affects how the child is raised and what he/she experiences during the formative years. This can have long-lasting effects on the child. So, it is important to study how depression affects childrearing and the child and what are the factors that might mitigate or eliminate the effects of parental depression on the child. Mindfulness training has been shown to both reduce depression and to improve parenting. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed specifically to treat depression and has been found to reduce depression alone or in combination with antidepressive drugs.  Hence, it is reasonable to study the effects of MBCT on parents who suffer with depression and their children.


In today’s Research News article “Manual Development and Pilot Randomised Controlled Trial of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Versus Usual Care for Parents with a History of Depression.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Mann and colleagues recruited parents with children who were attending an outpatient depression clinic and randomly assigned them to either continue with treatment as usual or receive a form of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy that was adapted for parents (MBCT-P). They were measured before therapy and 4 and 9 months after for depression, parental stress, mindfulness, self-compassion, and the children’s behavior. They found that the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for parents (MBCT-P) treatment program in comparison to treatment as usual significantly reduced depression and improved mindfulness and self-compassion at 9-months after treatment. They also found that there were significantly fewer behavior problems with the children.


These are very interesting and promising results. They suggest that this newly developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for parents (MBCT-P) program is a safe, effective, and long lasting treatment for parental depression which, in turn, leads to improved behavior in the children. It should be noted that this was a small pilot trial and the results need to be confirmed with a larger number of participants before making firm conclusions. But, the fact that significant results were obtained from such a small sample suggests that the effects of MBCT-P are robust.


That MBCT-P relieved depression and improved mindfulness and self-compassion should be expected given the large array of research demonstrating the effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for depression. It is an important, but not surprising, consequence of MBCT-P that the children’s behavior was improved. It can be speculated that with the depression relived the parents are better able to engage with their children and be more effective and mindful parents. Future research should investigate precisely what changes occur in parenting behaviors after MBCT-P training and how they affect the children.


So, get parents out of the dumps with mindfulness.


“Mindfulness helps parents emerge from autopilot and end ineffective habits, Bertin said. For instance, instead of getting frustrated and yelling at your child during a homework session – like you might usually do — you’re able to pause and observe your feelings, and act in a calmer, and perhaps more effective way.” – Mark Bertin


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary

Mann, J., Kuyken, W., O’Mahen, H., Ukoumunne, O. C., Evans, A., & Ford, T. (2016). Manual Development and Pilot Randomised Controlled Trial of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Versus Usual Care for Parents with a History of Depression. Mindfulness, 7(5), 1024–1033.



Parental depression can adversely affect parenting and children’s development. We adapted mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) for parents (MBCT-P) with a history of depression and describe its development, feasibility, acceptability and preliminary estimates of efficacy. Manual development involved interviews with 12 parents who participated in MBCT groups or pilot MBCT-P groups. We subsequently randomised 38 parents of children aged between 2 and 6 years to MBCT-P plus usual care (n = 19) or usual care (n = 19). Parents were interviewed to assess the acceptability of MBCT-P. Preliminary estimates of efficacy in relation to parental depression and children’s behaviour were calculated at 4 and 9 months post-randomisation. Levels of parental stress, mindfulness and self-compassion were measured. Interviews confirmed the acceptability of MBCT-P; 78 % attended at least half the sessions. In the pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT), at 9 months, depressive symptoms in the MBCT-P arm were lower than in the usual care arm (adjusted mean difference = −7.0; 95 % confidence interval (CI) = −12.8 to −1.1; p = 0.02) and 11 participants (58 %) in the MBCT-P arm remained well compared to 6 (32 %) in the usual care arm (mean difference = 26 %; 95 % CI = −4 to 57 %; p = 0.02). Levels of mindfulness (p = 0.01) and self-compassion (p = 0.005) were higher in the MBCT-P arm, with no significant differences in parental stress (p = 0.2) or children’s behaviour (p = 0.2). Children’s behaviour problems were significantly lower in the MBCT-P arm at 4 months (p = 0.03). This study suggests MBCT-P is acceptable and feasible. A definitive trial is needed to test its efficacy and cost effectiveness.


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