Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Teen Depression

Mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy (MCBT) is a form of psychotherapy that combines standard cognitive behavioral therapy with a meditative technique called mindfulness, which has its roots in various Asian cultures. Several past studies have confirmed the usefulness of this psychotherapy in the treatment of major depression in various adult populations. According to the results of a new study conducted by researchers from Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven, MCBT-based instruction can also help ease symptoms of depression in teenagers and help prevent the development of depressive disorders.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on two main principles: a cognitive or intellectual awareness of the motivations behind human behavior and the use of specific techniques designed to modify behaviors over the long term. In CBT for depression, anxiety or a variety of other psychiatric conditions, a participant learns how to identify thoughts, emotional reactions or general frames of mind that lead to involvement in unhealthy behaviors in response to stress. He or she then learns how to gradually replace those unhealthy or detrimental responses with thoughts and emotions that support a centered life outlook and boost resilience in the face of stressful events. Depending on the patient’s needs and circumstances, the average course of cognitive behavioral therapy includes anywhere from 10 to 20 individual sessions.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy combines basic aspects of CBT with a meditative procedure called mindfulness. During mindfulness meditation, a participant learns to focus on his or her breathing for 20 or 30 minutes at a time and avoid focusing on specific thoughts or feelings that arise during the meditation session. Gradually, this purposeful focus on the process of breathing gives the participant a new, relatively detached perspective on any given thought or feeling that passes through the mind. In the framework of MCBT, mindfulness helps a patient disrupt any tendency to brood on unhealthy or detrimental emotions. Brooding is a known psychological factor in the development of chronically depressed or anxious states of mind. A number of studies have demonstrated the usefulness of mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of major depression in adults. For example, the results of a study published in 2007 in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy indicate that MCBT can help severely depressed individuals recover fully or nearly fully, even when those individuals don’t respond well to other forms of treatment. The results of a second study, published in 2011 by researchers from the University of Exeter, indicate that some people with major depression respond better to MCBT than they respond to either traditional psychotherapy or antidepressant medications.

 MCBT in Teens

In the study conducted by the Catholic University of Leuven, a team of researchers taught MCBT-based techniques to a group of 200 children between the ages of 13 and 20. Prior to learning these techniques, the students took questionnaires that allowed the researchers to identify significant symptoms of stress-related depression, as well as symptoms of anxiety. After examining the results of these questionnaires, the researchers concluded that 21 percent of the participating students had clear depression symptoms. Immediately after mindfulness training, the rate of depression symptoms in the study participants dropped to 15 percent. In a follow-up assessment conducted six months later, the depression rate remained at a relatively low 16 percent. In order to gauge the importance of their findings, the research team also assessed depression and anxiety symptoms in a second group of 200 children who did not receive mindfulness training. Initially, 24 percent of these children had clear symptoms of depression. In a second assessment conducted at the same time as the exit assessment for the children who received mindfulness training, the depression rate in this group rose to 27 percent. In a follow-up assessment conducted six months later, the depression rate in this group rose again to 31 percent.

Treating Teen Depression with MCBT

The researchers from Catholic University of Leuven believe that their study demonstrates the effectiveness of mindfulness-based therapeutic techniques as a treatment for emerging depression symptoms in teenagers. They also believe that mindfulness-based interventions can potentially prevent existing symptoms of teenage depression from becoming entrenched and turning into full-blown major depression (or some other depressive disorder) at a later point in time.

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