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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

New study shows effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Embargoed until 09 August 2012

People who have had one or two episodes of depression could benefit from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), according to new research published today in the British Journal of Psychiatry.


The therapy, which involves eight weekly group sessions, has been endorsed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as an effective treatment for preventing the relapse of depression – but only for patients who have had three or more previous episodes of major depression.


In this study, researchers from Maastricht University Medical Centre, under the lead of Dr Marieke Wichers, recruited 130 adults living in The Netherlands. Participants had experienced at least one episode of major depressive disorder and were still experiencing some residual depressive symptoms, such as fatigue, anxiety, low mood and insomnia. Of the 130 participants, 71 had had two or fewer previous episodes of depression, and 59 had had three or more episodes.


The participants were randomly allocated to two groups. One group, comprising 64 people, received eight MBCT training sessions from experienced trainers. The weekly sessions included guided meditation, experiential exercises and discussions. In addition to the weekly group sessions, the participants received CDs with guided exercises, and were given daily homework exercises taking 30-60 minutes. The other group, comprising 66 people, were put on a waiting list for treatment and acted as a control.


The research team found that MBCT significantly reduced people’s residual depressive symptoms, thereby improving their quality of life. On average, the MBCT group experienced a 30-35% reduction in their residual symptoms, compared to 10% in the control group. Importantly, the researchers found no evidence that MBCT had a greater effect on people who had had three or more previous episodes of depression than those who had had only one or two previous episodes, as was found in previous studies.


First author and study coordinator Dr Nicole Geschwind, now at the University of Leuven in Belgium, said: "Our study shows that MBCT is effective in reducing depressive symptoms also in people with only one or two prior depressive episodes. Based on this study, we believe that MBCT treatment for residual depressive symptoms should not be restricted to people with three or more prior depressive episodes – though replication of our findings with further research is needed. At the very least, the current practice of restricting MBCT to patients with three or more episodes of depression needs urgent re-examination."

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896



Geschwind N, Peeters F, Huibers M, van Os J and Wichers M. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and number of previous depressive episodes. British Journal of Psychiatry, epub ahead of print, 9 August 2012


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