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Mindfulness Based Therapy

Medically Reviewed and Edited by 
Olga Kyrychenko, Psychologist

Mindfulness is a mental practice that involves bringing and maintaining one’s attention to the present moment with non-judgmental awareness.

Simply put, it’s the act of keeping your attention focused on the present experience and bringing it back when you get distracted by unpleasant and disturbing thoughts or emotions. The act of simply observing negative thoughts and recognizing them as transitory allows individuals to become aware and non-critical of themselves and reality, thus controlling and containing negative emotions, sensations, and thoughts that can lead to suffering.

In the context of therapy, mindfulness is a psychotherapeutic approach that incorporates the experience of meditation practices into psychological treatment.

It could be used as a stand-alone practice, carried out alone, in groups, or in clinical contexts. However, it’s often employed in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities to enrich the treatment and facilitate change in emotional and mental health.

Is Mindfulness Therapy Effective?

The effectiveness of mindfulness therapy has been the subject of extensive research over the years. It has been shown that when mindfulness is included in appropriate therapeutic intervention protocols, it consolidates the result obtained with psychotherapy, increasing the effectiveness of the treatment. It facilitates the overcoming of difficult psychological conditions and mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, attention deficit disorders, and personality disorders.

Furthermore, results of the most recent brain neuroimaging research suggest that mindfulness-based interventions develop the medial prefrontal cortex, changing the neural pathways related to rumination, self-regulation, attention, and emotional reactivity. These changes in the brain function allow better processing and integration of emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

Greater awareness and connection with bodily sensations would also allow for better cognitive performance in decision-making processes, emotion regulation, and general psychological state.

Different Types of Mindfulness Therapy

Mindfulness has been integrated into a many types of therapeutic models and programs. Each incorporates different types of mindfulness practices and techniques that serve as an effective tool to address a wide spectrum of mental health conditions.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

MBCT it’s one of the most widespread, recognized, and scientifically tested forms of mindfulness therapy.

Its protocol uses a combination of mindfulness meditation techniques and cognitive-behavioral approaches with the aim of reducing the recurrence of mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

This therapy is designed to work on thoughts, emotions and sensations that are automatically reactivated during periods of negative mood, thus helping individuals achieve a radical transformation in their relationship with all the factors that can contribute to depressive relapses.

In other words, MBCT teaches patients a new relationship with their mental and bodily experiences. A relationship that allows them to take a step back from automatic responses and therefore protects them from those vicious cycles that carry the risk of relapse.

The program usually consists of two-hour sessions over the course of eight weeks. During the sessions, participants learn mindfulness meditation techniques, breathing, body and thought awareness exercises, as well as cognitive and behavioral strategies to manage negative thought patterns and emotions, promoting lasting mental well-being.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Therapy (MBSR)

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is a program that combines mindfulness meditation, yoga, and body awareness practices. MBSR has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.

This protocol is not an actual form of therapy, but rather a psycho-educational and training approach that can be integrated, if necessary, into pharmacological and psychological treatments.

The program usually covers eight group meetings on a weekly basis. Each session includes moments of guided mindfulness meditation, the sharing of personal experiences, and the assignment of homework exercises.

The purpose of this approach is to help individuals recognize and consciously manage sources of stress, reducing their emotional reactivity and gaining a deeper sense of calm.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a cognitive behavioral treatment that incorporates mindfulness as a core component of its approach. Numerous empirical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of dialectical behavioral therapy in borderline personality disorder, especially in the reduction of self-harmful acts and suicidal behaviors, and in substance abuse.

DBT integrates mindfulness techniques to help individuals identify and analyze problematic behaviors and the events that produce them. Through this process, individuals learn to replace these behaviors with adaptive ones. Additionally, it helps them acknowledge and change dysfunctional beliefs and expectations acquired over their lifetime that prove to be ineffective or penalizing. Lastly, it assists individuals in building the capacity to tolerate psychological suffering and accept that “real changes” occur gradually.

DBT requires a long-term commitment, with two-hour sessions every week for at least six months.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT is a form of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy that focuses on acceptance, awareness and value-oriented actions to help people accept the difficulties that occur throughout life.

Through mindfulness techniques and strategies for commitment to action and behavior modification, it teaches you to stop rejecting emotions and to accept them as natural and appropriate reactions to specific situations that should not prevent you from moving forward in life.

The objective of this approach is to increase psychological flexibility: be fully in touch with the present moment, as a conscious human being, and choose to act effectively (concrete behaviors in line with their values) even in the presence of difficult or interfering private events.

ACT is defined as a transdiagnostic psychotherapy, because it can be applied in the treatment of very different psychological disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.

Mindfulness Therapy Techniques and Exercises

Mindfulness therapy employs different mindful techniques and exercises, depending on the specific approach of the therapy and the client’s needs. Some of the most common ones include:

1. Mindful Meditation

Mindful meditation involves focusing your attention on the present moment, often by concentrating on your breath, bodily sensations, or a specific object. This practice enhances mindfulness and helps individuals detach from distracting thoughts.

2. Breathing Exercises

A form of meditation in which attention is placed specifically on the breath. By consciously focusing on the act of inhaling and exhaling, and paying close attention to the sensations of each breath, such as the rise and fall of the chest or the sensation of air passing through the nostrils, individuals can redirect the attention from distracting thoughts and be anchored in the present, achieving a deep sense of calm and relaxation.

3. Body Scan

A body scan is a guided exercise in which individuals systematically direct their attention to different parts of their body, noticing any sensations or tension. It promotes self-awareness and most importantly body-awareness, helping individuals to listen to their body and to consciously acknowledge physical sensations and signals. 

It can be particularly useful for individuals who experience physical symptoms related to stress or anxiety.

4. Journaling

Therapists may encourage clients to keep mindfulness journals where they deliberately put their thoughts, emotions, and experiences on paper. This practice helps individuals become more aware of their thought patterns and triggers for stress or negative emotions, facilitating self-reflection and fostering emotional processing and self-awareness.

5. Worksheets

Mindfulness-based worksheets are structured tools used in therapy that guide individuals in applying mindfulness principles to their inner world. These tailored documents offer a systematic approach to observing, categorizing, and managing thoughts and emotions, encouraging a non-judgmental attitude and promoting emotional regulation. They empower individuals to harness the effectiveness of mindfulness in structured problem-solving, goal-setting, and self-reflection.

What is Mindfulness Therapy Good For?

Mindfulness therapy is a versatile approach that can be applied to treat a wide variety of mental health conditions. It can be used for:

  • Anger management
  • Mood disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance abuse
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic pain/illness
  • self-confidence
  • relationships
  • self-control and self-regulation

With that said, mindfulness therapy has proven to be especially effective in addressing complex emotional states:

Mindfulness Therapy For Anxiety Disorders

Mindfulness therapy can be highly effective in treating anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. By promoting the observation of anxious thoughts and feelings without judgment, it teaches individuals to distance themselves from the grip of anxiety. This non-reactive awareness reduces anxiety symptoms and provides an improved ability to cope with it.

For more information read our guide on the best online therapy sites for anxiety. Almost all of these incorporate mindfulness into their therapeutic approach.

Mindfulness to Treat Stress

Mindfulness techniques encourage individuals to slow down and be in the moment, helping them become aware of stressors and bodily responses. By cultivating mindfulness, people can learn to “answer” to stress rather than react: when we react to stressful thoughts or situations, we fall victim to mental automatisms and mental and physical discomforts. By learning instead to observe stressors without judgment, people can manage stress more effectively, develop resilience, and regain a sense of balance and control in their lives.

Read our guide for the best stress therapy to find out whether mindfulness or some other therapy type is the best solution for you.

Mindfulness Therapy For Depression

Mindfulness-based interventions have shown significant promise in helping patients to structure a new relationship with their mind and body, encouraging a compassionate exploration of thoughts and emotions. By developing mindfulness, individuals learn how to detach from negative experiences, therefore they learn not to identify themselves with negative thoughts and emotions. This understanding leads to recognizing depressive triggers, allowing to defuse automatic responses to events and breaking the vicious cycles of depressive relapse.

Our list of therapy sites for depression includes multiple platforms who offer mindfulness treatments.

Known Mindfulness Benefits

The benefits of mindfulness therapy are multifaceted and extend beyond addressing specific mental health conditions. Practicing mindfulness provides effective tools that allow individuals to improve their relationship with themselves, their approach to life, and therefore their psychophysical well-being. Some of the main benefits include:

Improved Emotional Regulation

Mindfulness therapy enhances individuals’ ability to regulate emotions, reducing impulsivity and emotional reactivity.

Increased Self-Awareness

By practicing mindfulness, individuals become more attuned to their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, fostering self-awareness and self-compassion.

Better Stress Management

Mindfulness equips individuals with effective stress management techniques, helping them navigate life’s challenges with greater ease.

Developed Focus and Concentration

Regular mindfulness practice can improve concentration and cognitive function, making it easier to stay engaged in tasks.

Mindfulness Drawbacks and Limitations

While mindfulness therapy offers numerous benefits, it’s important to understand the potential drawbacks and challenges associated with this approach.

Initial Frustration

For some individuals, especially those new to mindfulness practice, it can be frustrating. Sitting still and trying to focus on the present moment may initially lead to restlessness, impatience, or heightened awareness of intrusive thoughts. This frustration can discourage individuals from continuing with mindfulness practice.

Time Commitment

Mindfulness requires consistent practice to yield significant benefits. Some people may find it challenging to dedicate the necessary time for regular meditation or mindfulness exercises in their busy lives.

Not for Everybody

Mindfulness therapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It may not work for everyone, and its effectiveness can vary from person to person. Some individuals may require different therapeutic approaches tailored to their specific needs.

Emotional Intensity

Mindfulness can bring individuals face-to-face with intense emotions or unresolved issues that they may have been avoiding. This emotional intensity can be overwhelming, and individuals may require additional support to process these emotions effectively.

Is Mindfulness Right for You?

mindfulness-based therapy is an effective approach to treating many health conditions. Additionally, it helps increase awareness of ourselves and our surroundings, reduce stress, control anxiety, promote emotional health, improving our overall well-being.

It offers a range of techniques and practices that can be tailored to individual needs and preferences. While mindfulness therapy has shown effectiveness in various clinical contexts, it’s essential to recognize that it may not be suitable for everyone. We recommend consulting with a qualified therapist to determine whether mindfulness therapy aligns with your goals and needs.

 Mindfulness therapy comes in many forms and formats and choosing the right therapist and approach is essential for the success of the treatment. You may talk with your healthcare provider for support and direction or you may opt for treatment through a online therapy site.