Online Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Shows Promise for Alleviating Depressive Symptoms

You may not need to leave your house or empty your wallet to get the treatment you need for depression.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
February 20, 2020

No matter how religiously a person suffering from depression follows their mental health treatment plan, their battle with classic depressive symptoms, such as constant worry, disrupted sleep, or a lack of energy can often persist. In such situations, clinicians have found that — in addition to traditional approaches to managing the disorder like medication and therapy — patients may benefit from Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which has been show to treat depression and prevent its return. New research out of the University of Toronto suggests that making MBCT available online could be a game-changer for those living with depression who may not be able to access regular treatment. 

Essentially, MBCT is a version of cognitive therapy (a form of therapy that focus on changing maladaptive beliefs and behaviors) that incorporates meditation, mindfulness, and breathing exercises into treatment plans. The online version of MBCT, called Mindful Mood Balance (MMB), uses the technique to teach patients methods for regulating their emotions, like observing — rather than immediately acting on — a certain thought or feeling, and then thoughtfully determining how to respond.

“Our goal has always been for people to develop skills that they could continue to rely on once treatment had ended,” University of Toronto Scarborough Professor Zindel Segal, a clinical psychologist and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

In addition to having the potential to help people with ongoing depression, MMB is especially promising for its ability to reach people who may not typically have access to traditional in-person therapy. 

“What drove us to develop MMB is to improve access to this treatment,” Segal said. “The online version uses the same content as the in-person sessions, except people can now avoid the barriers of cost, travel or wait times, and they can get the care they need efficiently and conveniently.”

While optimistic about the outcomes of MBB, Segal remains realistic, knowing that patients are more likely to stop using online mental health programs than they are to cease in-person treatment. Still, he thinks the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks. “The higher rates of dropout are somewhat offset by the fact that you can reach many more people with online treatment,” he said. “But, there’s still room for improvement and we will be looking at our user metrics and outcomes for ways to make MMB more engaging and durable.”

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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