For years, Mindful-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been a highly effective treatment for people who suffer from recurring bouts of depression, anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Combining the principles of cognitive therapy with meditative practices and attitudes based on the cultivation of mindfulness, the goal of MBCT is to help participants learn to recognize their sense of being and see themselves as separate from their thoughts and moods.
This recognition can allow people to break free from thought patterns in which the same negative messages may be repeated over and over. After gaining an awareness of the separation between thoughts, emotions, and the self, people in treatment may find that while the self and the emotions may exist simultaneously, they do not have to exist within the same dimension. This insight can contribute to healing by helping individuals learn to interject positive thoughts into negative moods in order to disarm those negative moods.
In general, MBCT attempts to give participants the necessary tools to combat depressive symptoms as they arise. People who learn these skills may then be able to revert to these methods in times of distress or when faced with potentially overwhelming situations.
It’s no wonder then that recent studies show that mindfulness-based treatments are having great success, as well, with those who are trying to maintain their recovery and prevent a relapse. After all, depression, anxiety and addiction are not often mutually exclusive. Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) tackles the very roots of addictive behavior by targeting two of the main predictors of relapse: negative emotions and cravings.
According to Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research, Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School, humans are hard-wired with an inherent rewards based learning system made of three basic elements: trigger, behavior, reward. This has helped us to survive. For example, you have an itch (trigger), you scratch it (behavior), you feel relief (reward).
Unfortunately, this mechanism which is built to help us survive, also triggers addictive behaviors. This is known as a “habit loop”. So when someone is stressed out and tries a substance that relieves that feeling of stress, likely they will return to that substance the next time they are triggered by stress.
So how exactly does mindfulness work? MBRP targets reactive, impulsive sorts of behaviors by asking the participants to pay attention to their experiences of craving and how that feeling can automatically lead to an impulsive behavior. By using meditation techniques to help direct people’s attention to their experience in the present, without judging themselves for what they are feeling or thinking, participants can learn to tolerate discomfort without reacting to it.
Mindfulness helps to draw attention to the continuous chatter that clutters the subconscious mind, leading us into unhealthy thinking loops or ruminations. In noticing and acknowledging these thoughts, we are able to then notice the physical symptoms that persist with those thoughts and see them as separate entities.
Of course, there is no one size fits all solution to recovery and what works for some, may not work for others. While some claim that MBRP has a higher success rate than other “gold standard” treatments, it is imprudent to discount them altogether. The good news about mindfulness is that it can be used in conjunction with and complement other types of treatment. The truth is, mindfulness can be a key component in any healthy lifestyle. After all, who couldn’t benefit from a little self reflection?
There are many resources available online for those who are interested in learning more about MBRP and can help direct you to a program options near you.
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