MBCT & MBSR: The Differences

The key difference in MBCT is an explicit focus on turning toward low mood and negative thoughts early in the program so that participants gain experience with recognizing these symptoms and confidence in their ability to respond skillfully.

MBCT is an adaptation of MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) that uses the same basic format and structure – an 8-week class with an all-day retreat; a class structure that includes psychoeducation, formal meditation and movement practices, and teacher-led discussion and inquiry; and daily home practices and exercises. 

As in MBSR, participants learn to recognize habitual, unhelpful reactions to difficulty and learn instead to bring an interested, accepting and non-judgmental attitude to all experience, including difficult sensations, emotions, thoughts and behavior.   MBCT replaces some of the content of MBSR with a focus on specific patterns of negative thinking that people with depression are vulnerable to, but which we all experience from time to time.

MBCT was developed to treat depression and research has shown it to be effective in preventing relapse in people who have recovered from depression. The key difference in MBCT is an explicit focus on turning toward low mood and negative thoughts early in the program so that participants gain experience with recognizing these symptoms and confidence in their ability to respond skillfully. 

MBCT was developed to prevent future episodes of depression in people with a history of recurrent depression.  It is based on the observation that recurrence in people who have recovered from a depressive episode is more likely when patterns of negative thinking are triggered by low moods encountered in the course of everyday life.  Negative thinking leads to lower mood and this pattern escalates to bring on a relapse of depression.

Techniques from Cognitive Behavior Therapy are incorporated into the program to promote greater awareness of these patterns and mindfulness practices are used to disengage from them.  The focus is on changing one’s relationship to unwanted thoughts, feelings and body sensations so that participants no longer try to avoid them or react to them automatically, but rather respond to them in an intentional and skillful manner.

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