CBT and Mindfulness for Depression

Rob Webby Robert Hindman, PhD

Clinical Psychologist at Beck Institute


Mindfulness-based interventions have been becoming more popular in psychotherapy. One such treatment, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), has specifically been developed to prevent relapse in clients who have experienced recurrent major depressive episodes (Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2001).  We have incorporated mindfulness strategies into our work at the Beck Institute. Instead of thinking about mindfulness-based interventions as separate treatments, however, we think about mindfulness as a potential strategy to use in a larger CBT framework.  I’ll review one common mindfulness technique we use with our non-suicidal depressed clients.

A body of research has demonstrated rumination to be an important factor in maintaining depression (e.g., Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000).  We view rumination as a strategy clients use to cope with depression.  For example, Mark, a client I recently treated, felt depressed, then ruminated to try to figure out why he felt depressed. His ruminative thoughts included, “Why do I feel so depressed? What’s wrong with me?  I just can’t do anything right, like I got a bad review at work.  My friends don’t try to call me either. . .”  I worked with this client to help him identify his beliefs about the rumination process instead of solely evaluating the content of each thought.

First I help clients identify, and then evaluate, beliefs about rumination. I start this way (instead of going straight into mindfulness) because clients tend to continue to use strategies that they view as helpful. I want them to recognize that rumination is doing them more harm than good.  One way to identify beliefs about rumination is to complete a cost-benefit analysis, eliciting from clients the advantages and disadvantages of rumination.  Instead of using the term “rumination,” I asked them what they call the strategy (e.g., “asking myself why,” “listing all of my problems,” “trying to think my way out of depression”).

Typical advantages include “It helps me figure out my problems;” “I can come up with solutions.” “I’ll be able to know what to do next time I feel depressed.”  Next we list the disadvantages, such as: “It makes me feel worse.” “Once I start, it’s hard to stop.”  Then we evaluate each advantage.  For instance, I asked Mark, “How often do you come up with a specific solution?” and “If ruminating helped you solve your problems, do you think they would be solved by now?”  Next we evaluate whether the advantages or disadvantages are stronger. Clients have effectively assessed their positive beliefs about rumination when they conclude that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. A list of the advantages and disadvantages shows clients the consequences of rumination and acts a motivator to stop the unhelpful strategy.  (If the advantages are still stronger, you’ll need to either spend more time evaluating the advantages or add to the disadvantages.)

The next step is to teach clients how to use mindfulness as a strategy to disengage from rumination.  I record the mindfulness exercises (usually using clients’ cell phones) to make it easier for them to practice. Before I start, I guide clients through a rumination induction by having them close their eyes and actively think about a topic involved in their typical ruminations. I get them to simulate the process of ruminating in session so they can experience being able to disengage from the rumination process.  As I noted before, this strategy should not be used with actively suicidal clients because it can increase their depressed mood and sense of hopelessness.

Once clients have been ruminating for about 30 seconds, I ask for a rating of their depressed mood from 0-10, turn on the recording app on their phone (“voice memos” on iPhones or “voice recorder” on Androids), and begin guiding them through a mindfulness of the breath exercise that lasts for 5 minutes.  At 5 minutes, I get another mood rating, end the exercise, and ask them about the experience (e.g., “What did you notice?” “Were you able to let go of ruminative thoughts and refocus on breathing?” “What happened to your mood over time?”)  The vast majority of clients learn that it’s possible to disengage from rumination, and that by not actively ruminating, their mood gradually improves.  I make sure to emphasize that mindfulness is not for the purpose of making them feel better or suppressing thoughts but is a strategy to help them relate to their thoughts in a different manner.  Their action plan then consists of listening to the recording every day (preferably at the beginning of the day to serve as a reminder to use mindfulness throughout the day) and to use mindfulness by letting go of thoughts and refocusing on the breath with their eyes open whenever they notice themselves ruminating during the day.


Dr. Hindman will be teaching mindfulness exercises as part of the CBT for Depression – Core 1 workshop at Beck Institute in March and the CBT for Anxiety workshop in Chicago in April.



Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2000).  The role of rumination in depressive disorders and mixed anxiety/depressive symptoms.  Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109, 504-511.

Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale, J. D. (2001).  Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for depression.  New York: Guilford Press.

Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence (prevent): A randomised controlled trial

New Study (1)Abstract:

Individuals with a history of recurrent depression have a high risk of repeated depressive relapse or recurrence. Maintenance antidepressants for at least 2 years is the current recommended treatment, but many individuals are interested in alternatives to medication. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) has been shown to reduce risk of relapse or recurrence compared with usual care, but has not yet been compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in a definitive trial. We aimed to see whether MBCT with support to taper or discontinue antidepressant treatment (MBCT-TS) was superior to maintenance antidepressants for prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence over 24 months.

In this single-blind, parallel, group randomised controlled trial (PREVENT), we recruited adult patients with three or more previous major depressive episodes and on a therapeutic dose of maintenance antidepressants, from primary care general practices in urban and rural settings in the UK. Participants were randomly assigned to either MBCT-TS or maintenance antidepressants (in a 1:1 ratio) with a computer-generated random number sequence with stratification by centre and symptomatic status. Participants were aware of treatment allocation and research assessors were masked to treatment allocation. The primary outcome was time to relapse or recurrence of depression, with patients followed up at five separate intervals during the 24-month study period. The primary analysis was based on the principle of intention to treat. The trial is registered with Current Controlled Trials, ISRCTN26666654.

Between March 23, 2010, and Oct 21, 2011, we assessed 2188 participants for eligibility and recruited 424 patients from 95 general practices. 212 patients were randomly assigned to MBCT-TS and 212 to maintenance antidepressants. The time to relapse or recurrence of depression did not differ between MBCT-TS and maintenance antidepressants over 24 months (hazard ratio 0·89, 95% CI 0·67–1·18; p=0·43), nor did the number of serious adverse events. Five adverse events were reported, including two deaths, in each of the MBCT-TS and maintenance antidepressants groups. No adverse events were attributable to the interventions or the trial.

We found no evidence that MBCT-TS is superior to maintenance antidepressant treatment for the prevention of depressive relapse in individuals at risk for depressive relapse or recurrence. Both treatments were associated with enduring positive outcomes in terms of relapse or recurrence, residual depressive symptoms, and quality of life.

Kuyken, Willem et al. (2015) Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence (PREVENT): A randomised controlled trial. The Lancet (386) 9988, p. 63 – 73.

Disrupting The Downward Spiral of Chronic Pain and Opioid Addiction With Mindfulness-oriented Recovery Enhancement: A Review of Clinical Outcomes and Neurocognitive Targets

New Study (1)Abstract

Prescription opioid misuse and addiction among chronic pain patients are problems of growing medical and social significance. Chronic pain patients often require intervention to improve their well-being and functioning, and yet, the most commonly available form of pharmacotherapy for chronic pain is centered on opioid analgesics–drugs that have high abuse liability. Consequently, health care and legal systems are often stymied in their attempts to intervene with individuals who suffer from both pain and addiction. As such, novel, nonpharmacologic interventions are needed to complement pharmacotherapy and interrupt the cycle of behavioral escalation. The purpose of this paper is to describe how the downward spiral of chronic pain and prescription opioid misuse may be targeted by one such intervention, Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE), a new behavioral treatment that integrates elements from mindfulness training, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and positive psychology. The clinical outcomes and neurocognitive mechanisms of this intervention are reviewed with respect to their effects on the risk chain linking chronic pain and prescription opioid misuse. Future directions for clinical and pharmacologic research are discussed.


Garland, E.L. (2014). Disrupting the downward spiral of chronic pain and opioid addiction with mindfulness-oriented recovery enhancement: a review of clinical outcomes and neurocognitive targets. Journal of Pain and Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy, 28(2), 122-129. doi: 10.3109/15360288.2014.911791.

Validation for Patients with Borderline Personality Disorder

During a recent Beck Institute Workshop, Dr. Aaron Beck explains that in recent years eastern philosophies and religions have had an increased influence on CBT and which have been incorporated into mindfulness based cognitive therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and dialectic behavior therapy. In discussing DBT, he emphasizes the importance of validation with borderline personality disorder patients.

For CBT resources, visit our website.

Individual Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) Improve Depressive Symptoms in Patients with Diabetes

Depression is a common comorbidity of diabetes, undesirably affecting patients’ physical and mental functioning. Psychological interventions are effective treatments for depression in the general population as well as in patients with a chronic disease. The aim of this study was to assess the efficacy of individual mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and individual cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) in comparison with a waiting-list control condition for treating depressive symptoms in adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. In this randomized controlled trial, 94 outpatients with diabetes and comorbid depressive symptoms (i.e., Beck Depression Inventory-II [BDI-II] ?14) were randomized to MBCT (n = 31), CBT (n = 32), or waiting list (n = 31). All participants completed written questionnaires and interviews at pre- and postmeasurement (3 months later). Primary outcome measure was severity of depressive symptoms (BDI-II and Toronto Hamilton Depression Rating Scale). Anxiety (Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7), well-being (Well-Being Index), diabetes-related distress (Problem Areas In Diabetes), and HbA1clevels were assessed as secondary outcomes. Results showed that participants receiving MBCT and CBT reported significantly greater reductions in depressive symptoms compared with patients in the waiting-list control condition (respectively, P = 0.004 and P < 0.001; d = 0.80 and 1.00; clinically relevant improvement 26% and 29% vs. 4%). Both interventions also had significant positive effects on anxiety, well-being, and diabetes-related distress. No significant effect was found on HbA1c values.
CONCLUSIONS: Both individual MBCT and CBT are effective in improving a range of psychological symptoms in individuals with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Tovote, K. A., Fleer, J., Snippe, E., Peeters, A. C. T. M., Emmelkamp, P. M. G., Sanderman, R., … Schroevers, M. J. (2014). Individual Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for Treating Depressive Symptoms in Patients with Diabetes: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial. Diabetes Care, doi: 10.2337/dc13-2918 1935-5548.

Mindfulness Techniques Involving Focus

In this video from a recent Beck Institute Workshop, Dr. Aaron Beck describes mindfulness techniques involving focus, which help clients distance themselves from ruminating thinking. Dr. Judith Beck notes that shifting focus can help clients modify their behavior to match their goals and values.

For CBT resources, visit our website.

The Utility of Mindfulness-Based CBT Techniques

In this video from a recent Beck Institute Workshop, Dr. Aaron Beck discusses ways to integrate mindfulness-based CBT techniques into treatment. He provides an example to demonstrate how mindfulness techniques can often help bring about symptom relief, while other key CBT techniques, such as cognitive restructuring, target the underlying problem.

For CBT resources, visit our website.

Self-Focus in Cognitive Therapy

In this video from a recent Beck Institute Workshop, Dr. Aaron Beck discusses self-focus in Cognitive Therapy. Dr. Beck states that psychological disorders often involve some degree of self-focus. With health anxiety, for example, an over-focus on sensations in the body trigger irrational thoughts and beliefs. As patients become fixated on their bodily sensations, thoughts, and beliefs, their symptoms exacerbate. Mindfulness is one technique patients can use to help control their focus and distance themselves from fixations.

For CBT resources, visit Beck Institute’s CBT Store.