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Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is an evidence-based treatment for substance abuse and addiction. Learn about this newer, yet proven addiction therapy.

Introduction to Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

When you learn about evidence-based treatment for addiction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) isn’t always the first option you’ll hear of, but it’s one that you should consider anyway.

It’s not as popular as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), similar behavioral treatments that take different approaches. But there’s plenty of evidence that MBCT can be just as effective as CBT and DBT.

Because no two people with addiction have the same background and needs, the most common behavioral treatments won’t work for everyone. That’s where evidence-based alternatives like MBCT come in.

Traditional cognitive therapies teach you to challenge the unhelpful thoughts that lead you back to substance abuse. This is very effective, but it can be less helpful for people who tend to have issues with anxiety or rumination (dwelling on a negative thought to an extreme).

MBCT challenges negative thoughts even further by teaching you that your unwanted thoughts and feelings don’t even require a reaction. You don’t have to judge your thoughts to overcome them. You can simply move past them without giving them your time and energy.

Therapy is highly individual and not every person will respond to first-line addiction therapy in the same way. If CBT doesn’t work for you, then MBCT could be the solution you’ve been wanting.

Where CBT can reinforce anxiety in people who have intrusive thoughts, MBCT teaches you to focus on your body and breath in the moment. This controlled focus lets you move beyond addiction-fuelling thoughts and get on with your day-to-day life.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy And Substance Abuse

Mindfulness-based therapy is especially effective for people with substance abuse because it takes an understanding approach and “meets you where you are”. It’s a good choice for those who have a history of trouble sticking with other cognitive therapies.

Research shows that MBCT helps reduce cravings for addictive drugs, making it an evidence-based tool in addiction treatment.

Like any cognitive therapy, there’s a lot of homework and practicing techniques involved with MBCT. But in this case, the homework involves things like breathing exercises, body scans, and even simply paying more attention to your surroundings.

For many people with addiction, MBCT is an accessible treatment with expectations that are easy to manage. In fact, one of the pillars of MBCT is “doing what works,” or the act of embracing the coping methods that work for you in the moment.

What Is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy?

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a therapy intervention that combines mindfulness, meditation, and traditional elements of cognitive therapy. It helps you develop a present-focused attitude and an arsenal of coping skills that can help you through moments of stress in recovery.

Most people take MBCT as an 8-week group class, which takes 2 hours per week with a single day-long workshop at the end. During class, you’ll learn the foundations of mindfulness and begin to put them into practice.

Those foundations include:

  • Paying attention: It sounds simpler than it is! You’ll learn to pay close attention to what’s happening around you (and your internal reactions).
  • Withholding judgment:You’ll learn to accept your feelings and thoughts and move past them instead of judging them or otherwise engaging with them.
  • Focusing on the present moment: You’ll practice staying in the current moment instead of letting your stress auto-pilot you into the future or past.
  • Non-critical participation: You’ll start branching out and trying new experiences without judging yourself or criticizing yourself.
  • Doing what works: You’ll commit to the solutions that work for you instead of stressing out about what you should be doing instead.
  • Stepping back: You’ll start removing yourself from high-stress conversations for a moment so you can think, not just react.

You can practice these foundations on your own. In fact, between classes, your therapist will ask you to spend time practicing skills like “letting be” and mindfulness of the breath. However, to get the full benefit from MBCT, you should enroll in the 8-week program. An instructor can help guide you into the material and answer any questions you have along the way.

Mindfulness Cognitive Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Mindfulness recovery involves using MCBT along with holistic mindfulness to treat substance use disorders (SUDs). You’ll follow a full recovery plan that includes evidence-based treatment, which may include medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and other behavioral treatments.

MCBT techniques work in addiction treatment because they help you relearn what’s important in life, a concept that gets broken by addiction. Cravings can be so powerful that without an effective coping tool, you start to choose cravings over the things that bring you joy.

Mindfulness-based psychotherapy helps you identify situations in your life that trigger your addiction or other destructive behavior. You’ll learn to accept negative thoughts and let them pass instead of wanting to self-medicate them away with substances.

Once you know how to get through a craving by practicing mindfulness, you can start to focus on what once brought meaning to your life, like activities and relationships. And that’s where the real healing begins in addiction: rebuilding a life that’s so rewarding that recovery is worth the work.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Techniques

Mindfulness cognitive therapy techniques help you bring your mind and body into the here and now. It’s hard to keep your mind in recovery when you’re dealing with your thoughts and feelings in a non-mindful way.

During early recovery, many people are more reactive, which means that it’s harder to attach non-significance to the negative thoughts and feelings you have. If you already feel bad, it’s easy to hold on to unhelpful thoughts and let them pull you out of the present moment.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy techniques help you stay in the moment and watch your unhelpful thoughts as they pass by. They include:

  • 3-minute breathing space: During a 3-minute breathing space, you spend one minute on each of 3 steps. The first step is to observe your experience with broad focus. Next, you’ll focus on your breath for a minute, narrowing your focus. Finally, you’ll re-open your focus to include the sensations in your body.
  • Pranayama: Pranayama is the practice of controlling or guiding your breath. When you practice pranayama, you’ll inhale and exhale in a specific pattern. A common pattern is 4-4-4-4, in which you’ll inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and let your lungs sit empty for 4 seconds.
  • Walking meditation: Sound harder to meditate while moving? Many people actually find it easier to meditate while walking, especially in the beginning. The motion of your body and the feeling of your feet on the ground can help foster a sense of grounding. This keeps you focused on the meditation practice even when your mind wants to wander.
  • Yoga: Yoga is another example of moving meditation. With yoga, practitioners connect their inward and outward breaths with movement as they move into and out of asanas, or body positions. It’s common to inhale while moving into the next position and exhale while relaxing into a position.
  • Body scan: During a body scan, you’ll lay still and move your awareness slowly from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, pausing at every step along the way. At each stop, you’ll focus on a new body part and allow yourself to note how it feels before moving on. Body scans are effective at reducing cravings.
  • Seated meditation: When you hear the term “meditate,” you probably picture somebody in a seated position. Seated meditation can take place cross-legged on the ground, in a chair, or on a meditation cushion. You might sit in a quarter lotus with crossed legs, a half-lotus with just one leg crossed, or a full lotus with your feet resting on your thighs.

You’ll probably learn and practice all of these mindfulness-based cognitive therapy exercises. Your therapist will help you identify the ones that work best for you so you can add them to your emergency toolkit.

Is MBCT a Type of Holistic Treatment?

A holistic treatment for addiction is a treatment that takes the entire person into account, including their physical, psychological, social, and spiritual wellbeing. Many holistic addiction treatments are also evidence-based, which means there’s research to support their use.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is one part of a holistic treatment plan. The techniques that you learn in MBCT will help you manage recovery in the years to come, but you’ll also need to address your physical, social, and spiritual wellbeing.

Three Major Goals of MBCT

When you practice MBCT, you’ll learn to note, ground, and allow. Once you’ve reached those goals, you can use the corresponding skills to manage your mental health in recovery.

The major goals of MBCT include:

  • Noting: This is the ability to neutrally perceive your surroundings without letting them affect your emotional state.
  • Grounding: This is the ability to disrupt feelings of anxiety or negative thought loops by bringing your mental state back to the here and now.
  • Allowing: This is the ability to accept your thoughts and feelings, even if they’re negative, and watch them move on without engaging them.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can help people with any type of addiction disorder. It may be especially helpful if you have co-occurring disorders like depression or anxiety disorders.

Why Choose Bedrock Recovery Center?

Bedrock Recovery Center can help you with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in MA. Our Canton facility offers residential inpatient treatment that combines evidence-based therapy and medication for a whole-body approach to addiction care. Call us today to see how we can help advance your recovery!

Written by
Bedrock Recovery Editorial Team

©2023 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

This page does not provide medical advice.

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