Mindfulness for depression, anxiety and stress

Mindfulness is a particular form of awareness that arises from the application of practices from the Bhuddist culture. There is no need to become a Bhuddist to use them, and although the origins are somewhat mystical, the beneficial effects have been studied scientifically. It is the basis for Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, a new branch of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) that is now recognised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a form of relapse prevention for depression. This means that it is a mainstream, evidence-based, treatment - although fortunately it is much more than this! There is also a strong evidence base to support its effectiveness in the treatment of anxiety, stress and chronic pain.

It is based on pioneering work by a small number of practitioners, most notable Jon Kabat Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. However, a group of psychologists (Williams, Teasdale and Segal) are credited with the incorporation of mindfulness into counselling and therapy, in the form of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Although mindfulness is essentially an individual practice, it has been adopted by many practitioners, and is a dominant influence on therapies such as Compassion Based Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT, pronounced act). It has also influenced more medical approaches e.g. to working with suicidal clients.

It is thought that the techniques work by harnassing the healing power of awareness and helping people to disengage from negative states of mind.

In the past, I have recommended it to clients, but have not personally practiced or used it in sessions. However, I am now becoming more actively involved.

If you are interested in finding out more, then I would recommend:

  1. Reading - a good starting point is the 2010 book by Heaversedge and Halliwell or the 2007 book by Williams et al. The Williams et al., which focuses on depression, is a somewhere between a self-help book and an academic text (currently available from Amazon for under £10). Three of the four authors are well known in the world of CBT, and the fourth, Jon Kabatt-Zinn is a pioneer of the use of mindfulness techniques in medicine. Kabat-Zinn has written widely on Mindfulness, although much of it is less easy to read. His best known book is the 2004 edition of 'Full Catastrophe Living'. If you are interested in the wider application of mindfulness then 'The Happiness Trap' (2008) by Russ Harris is an excellent book.
  2. CDs - The Williams et al. book comes with a CD of guided meditation practice from Jon Kabat-Zinn. There are also other more self contained CD's such as Jon Kabatt-Zinn's 2006 'Mindfulness for beginners' (also available from Amazon).
  3. Classes - If you really are interested, then the best way to learn is to attend a course. These usually consist of eight weekly group sessions. They are widely available, and increasingly offered through the primary care mental health system. However, commitment is required to attend sessions and complete the necessary practice, during and after the course.


Harris, R. (2008) The happiness trap. London. Constable and Robinson

Heaversedge, J. & Halliwell, Ed. (2010). The mindful manifesto. London. Hay House

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2004). Full catastophe living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditiation. London: Piatkus Books

Williams, M., Teasdale, J., Segal, Z. & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2007). The mindful way through depression: Freing yourself from chronic unhappiness. London: Guilford


Copyright © 2011 George MacDonald. All rights reserved