Is MCBT For Me? A brief overview of Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

by Dan O'Mahony


Is MCBT for me? A brief overview of Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioural Therapy


As an integrative therapist, I am constantly seeking effective approaches to meet the diverse needs of clients. Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (MCBT) stands out as a promising modality that integrates the principles of mindfulness with cognitive-behavioural techniques. MCBT, often referred to as the third wave of cognitive therapy, blends the principles of mindfulness with the evidence-based techniques of CBT which can offer individuals a comprehensive pathway towards mental well-being and personal growth. In this article, I will explore the principles, techniques, and considerations involved in determining the appropriateness of MCBT for clients.


Mindfulness, rooted in ancient contemplative traditions which can be traced back to the traditional approaches from East Asian formative and functional medicine, philosophy, and spirituality, emphasizes present-moment awareness and promotes non-judgmental acceptance. Cognitive-behavioural therapy is an evidence-based therapy which focuses on identifying and challenging maladaptive thought patterns and behaviours. MCBT integrates these approaches to foster self-awareness, emotional regulation, and acceptance of self.
In my lived experience, the recent Pandemic has been a contributory factor to the upsurge in popularity of MCBT, with self-advocacy and awareness programmes such as life skills programmes, coupled with mindfulness meditation podcasts, books etc, providing a well needed source of comfort and connection for many in deeply uncertain times. The effects of which are far from over as we see a rise in clients affected by the prospect of post-pandemic re-socialisation.

Principles of MCBT:
1. Present Moment Awareness: MCBT emphasizes cultivating present moment awareness through mindfulness practices such as meditation and mindful breathing.
2. Developing a Neutral Stance: Clients learn to observe their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judgment or attachment, fostering self-awareness and insight.
3. Cognitive Restructuring: Building on cognitive-behavioural techniques, MCBT helps clients identify and challenge negative thought patterns. By examining the accuracy and validity of their thoughts, clients learn to reframe cognitive distortions, promoting a more balanced perspective.
4. Acceptance and Compassion: Mindfulness fosters acceptance and compassion towards oneself and others. In MCBT, clients learn to approach their experiences with kindness and understanding, cultivating emotional resilience and self-compassion.

Examples of MCBT Techniques:
1. Mindfulness Meditation: Guided mindfulness meditation serves as a cornerstone of MCBT. Clients practice techniques such as breath awareness and body scan meditation to develop present-moment awareness and emotional regulation.
2. Mindfulness Movement: For some clients, the thought of staying still to practice mindful breathwork, can simply be too challenging. Perhaps a gentle mindful movement exercise such as swaying the body can be a more manageable introduction to mindful practice.
3. Acknowledging and recording thoughts: MCBT incorporates practices such as thought records, journalling and using voice notes; (which is a preference of mine as a busy therapist!) to help clients identify, acknowledge and challenge negative thought patterns. Clients learn to examine the evidence for and against their thoughts, promoting cognitive and emotional well-being.
4. Mindful Exposure: Clients are gradually exposed to challenging thoughts, emotions, or situations in a mindful manner. By approaching these experiences with openness and curiosity, clients learn to tolerate discomfort and develop resilience.

Bearing those techniques in mind, I cannot but remember that as a novice first exploring the merits of MCBT many moons ago, I was initially delighted at the thought of attending a large group meditation practice as part of a staff training day. We were introduced to the concept of Mindful based interventions such as box breathing, followed by an exercise where we picked a Malteser or a raisin, which we then proceeded to mindfully anticipate eating.
Whilst being open to experiencing the exercise in theory, I felt a growing discomfort as the atmosphere in the room seemed to be tense, with a palpable air of dissatisfaction visibly heightening, which totally overtook my sense of grounding and wellbeing! As I took a sneaky peek around the room I had my lightbulb moment, the exercises were not the issue, Attendance was mandatory not optional. the lack of informed consent to participation was the problem.

Having been both a client and a practitioner who believes in the merits of MCBT, I am happy to advocate for this approach. However, to be fully effective in my work I am mindful that I need to be both comfortable and familiar with understanding the fundamentals of same. Therefore, my informal belief and comfort with MCBT Practice should be backed up by formal training and assessment practice on a continuous basis as determining whether MCBT is suitable for clients requires a thorough assessment of various factors.

Considerations when Assessing Suitability:
1. Nothing about me without me! (My mantra) When assessing clients' preferences for therapeutic approaches don’t assume clients will be automatically open to the overall approach. Some clients may be drawn to mindfulness practices, while others may prefer structured cognitive-behavioural techniques.
2. Collaborative Therapeutic Goals: Consider clients' therapeutic goals and whether they align with the objectives of MCBT. MCBT is effective for issues such as anxiety, depression, stress management, and personal growth.
3. Readiness for Change: Evaluate your clients' readiness for change and their willingness to engage in mindfulness practices and cognitive restructuring. MCBT requires a certain level of openness and commitment to the process.
4. Clinical Considerations: Consider the clinical complexity of your clients' presentations. While MCBT is effective for many issues, it may not be suitable for severe mental health conditions or clients who require more interventions.

Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can offer a unique blend of mindfulness practices and cognitive-behavioural techniques aimed at promoting emotional well-being and personal growth. As a therapist, assessing the suitability of MCBT for clients involves considering their preferences first and foremost, operating from an informed stance. Being clear with the client that this is a choice to be explored in an individual user-friendly way, not a premise is crucial. By carefully evaluating these factors, one can determine whether MCBT aligns with clients' needs thus providing a potential pathway towards healing and transformation for clients at any age or life stage, or not!
I am very aware that this article is but a mere dipping of thoughts in the vast waters of knowledge of Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which I hope you enjoyed reading.


Written by Dan O'Mahony Cert. Psychology. Prof Dip. BSc (Hons) Counselling & Psychotherapy MIACP. PCI College Academic Support Officer & Faculty Lecturer.


If you want to find out more, you might like to check out the following:
Daniel Goleman. (Psychologist, Journalist, Author).
Zindel Segal, John Teasdale and Mark Williams: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, First Edition: A New Approach to Preventing Relapse (2002)
Thich Nhat Hanh: The Miracle of Mindfulness, the Classic Guide (2008)
Dermot Whelan: Mind Full the Book @ Dermot Whelan
Niall Breslin: The Chill Skill (and other books for the younger gen) Mindfulness | Niall Breslin Bressie

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