What are mindfulness-based approaches?

  • Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a group-based programme developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Centre for Mindfulness. It was initially created to help people with chronic physical health problems and pain to reduce their stress levels, but it is suitable for anyone who wishes to improve their well-being, with possible exclusion factors;

  • Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which was developed by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale. MBCT is an integration of MBSR with Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a cost-effective treatment for preventing relapse in depression for people who wish to find new ways of managing recurrent depression but who currently feel well.

As the mindfulness-based interventions field is growing, courses are being adapted more specifically for different groups of people, including ones for childbirth, parenting and relapse prevention for substance addiction. There are also courses for children and adolescents, often within an educational setting.

Do mindfulness-based approaches work?

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that MBSR is effective in supporting people with chronic physical health problems improve their mental health, well-being and quality of life. Larger scale randomised trials are in progress to more definitively establish MBSR's effectiveness for particular groups and comparing it with other approaches such as cognitive-behavioural therapy and pharmacotherapy.

The evidence for MBCT for recurrent depression is compelling compared with normal NHS care, with MBCT approximately halving the chances of someone suffering depressive recurrences a year after MBCT. Larger trials are in progress that ask if MBCT might provide an alternative to staying on antidepressant medication.