Because the mind has two main modes, the ‘doing’ which is goal and outcomes oriented mode and the ‘being’ mode which is not focused on achieving specific goals but rather accepting and allowing what is. The ‘doing’ mode is, triggered when the mind sees a difference between how things are and how it wants things to be.

CBT primarily promotes cognitive awareness while MBCT would as a combined therapy working with the being’ mode of the brain would add stress reduction as a result.

CBT helps you recognise and reframe the negative thought patterns that lead to anxiety and depression and to learn that thoughts are not facts but something you can take a wider view of. Although MBCT also helps you recognise negative thoughts and taking a wider view but uses mindfulness to recognise what is going on for you in the present moment. Working with your thoughts on how you are thinking and feeling and experiencing things right now – to help you be less caught up in mental loops.

CBT is a thinking therapy. It is analytical, with clients tasked with charting their emotions and reactions as homework. Although it does take note of the body’s reaction to stress and negative thoughts, it could be called a ‘head-based’ therapy. The focus is on mentally getting rid of negative thoughts.

The tools used in a series of MBCT sessions are quite different, and might integrate things like breath focus (where you spent a few minutes putting your attention on your breathing), body scans (observing the tension and sensations in the body) and sitting meditation. In this way, it can be a ‘feeling’ process. It can be seen as experiential, not just analytical, and although it still involves a lot of work with recognising thought patterns it is much more ‘body-based’ than CBT. The focus is on accepting thoughts as they arise, and letting them go.

CBT and MBCT aim to develop consistent awareness of your thoughts and reactions so you notice when you are becoming triggered into negativity. But MBCT teaches that the best way to notice these triggers and to manage stress and anxiety is to develop ongoing awareness and acceptance of the present moment. Instead of trying too hard to understand the thought, MBCT would promote accepting the thought without judgement and letting it drift from your mind without attaching too much meaning to it.

The greater and more consistent your awareness of the present moment, the more likely it is you will catch the negative thought spirals and choose to disengage from distressing moods or worries.


They both aim to make you less likely to be drawn into automatic reactions to thoughts, feelings and events and both is used to help you recognise and change negative thought patterns and help you control your thoughts and therefore your moods.

They are also both short- to medium-term therapies. And they both work best with mild depression and anxiety over being the sole therapy for issues like trauma and abuse that might better suit a longer-term talking therapy.

Note, though, both these forms of therapy can be beneficial if used after successful treatment of a talking therapy, with MBCT in particular being useful to help clients who have dealt with long term depression and need a way to manage ongoing mild depressive episodes. It’s been proven that even after therapy the link in your brain between negative thoughts and negative moods still exists and is ready to be reactivated. So being able to monitor and contain reactivation, which mindfulness aids with, is invaluable.


Constantly notice thoughts Constantly notice what is around you in the now moment
A new way of thinking New way of being aware of your thoughts
Focus on negative thoughts and beliefs Be aware of negative thoughts but focus on where you are at the present
Analysing thoughts Experience thoughts
Analysing reactions Breathing through reactions
Learn how to manage negative thoughts Be aware of thoughts without trying to fix them
Get rid of negative thoughts Let negative thoughts drift through the mind without fixation
Find new ways to reframe negative thoughts Notice thoughts and accept them as thoughts only


Both CBT and MBCT have been proven in studies to be effective ways of treating depression, and if you are choosing between the two it is really a personal choice. If you are not sure which type of therapy would suit you best you could always try to source a therapist who offers both options. And keep in mind when choosing a therapist that it’s not just the type of therapy that matters, but that sometimes what’s even more important is that the therapist is someone you feel you can connect and work with.

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