Meditation and mindfulness have been incorporated more frequently into treatment programs due to their therapeutic effects, but not much is known about how they compare to more traditional approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). A new study has found that group mindfulness treatment is as effective as individual CBT in patients with depression and anxiety, reopening the debate on mindfulness-based practices in therapy.
The researchers from Lund University in Sweden used a test group of 215 patients with depression, anxiety or reactions to severe stress from 16 primary health care centers in southern Sweden. The patients were randomly put into either a structured group mindfulness program (with around 10 patients per group) or regular treatment consisting primarily of individual CBT. The patients received private mindfulness training as well, keeping track of their sessions in a diary. Before and after treatment, the patients answered questionnaires that estimated the severity of their depression and anxiety levels.
The authors found that self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety decreased in both the mindfulness and CBT groups over the course of the eight week period. The effects were so similar that there was virtually no statistical difference between the two; although their effects were comparable, the majority of the mindfulness sessions were in a group setting, where the CBT was strictly individual, which in theory should have given it an advantage.
“The study’s results indicate that group mindfulness treatment, conducted by certified instructors in primary health care, is as effective a treatment method as individual CBT for treating depression and anxiety. This means that group mindfulness treatment should be considered as an alternative to individual psychotherapy, especially at primary health care centers that can’t offer everyone individual therapy,” said Jan Sundquist, Ph.D., lead author of the study.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
Although there are various new psychotherapies that incorporate eastern concepts such as mindfulness into their treatment, the most successful as of yet is a hybrid of mindfulness and CBT. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is administered in group settings and incorporates education in addition to cognitive strategies for stopping negative patterns of thinking. MBCT combines the mindfulness approach of accepting and putting aside incoming thoughts without judgment with the effectiveness in identifying underlying causes of CBT.
Since both mindfulness and CBT teach mind management skills in order to catch automatic processes and train oneself to be less reactive to them, albeit in different ways, mindfulness-based CBT has proven to be very effective in the treatment of mental health disorders, namely depression. MBCT is also commonly believed to not only be useful for the patients, but the therapists administering the exercises as well.
If you would like more information on the ways in which we incorporate mindfulness meditation into our treatment programs, feel free to contact us.