Combining cognitive behavior therapy with mindfulness is called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. In one study mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was applied to depression patients that had shown a resistance to typical cognitive behavior therapy treatment. The patients were taught mindfulness-based cognitive therapy techniques to disengage the old destructive patterns of thought that held them in a depressed state. Using mindfulness-based cognitive therapy techniques, these patients improved from their previous depression levels and some returned to nearly normal mood levels (Kenny & Williams, 2007).
A study using normal, undergraduate students compared a focused breathing technique (similar to some meditation techniques) with unfocused attention and worrying. The students were divided into three sections. Each section saw a recorded 15 minute exercise on each technique. The students were then shown a series of slides, some were neutral and some were negative. The intensity of the students reactions to each slide was recorded. The focused breathing group displayed the most emotional equanimity to all slides, demonstrating the ability of mindfulness to regulate emotional responses (Arch & Craske, 2006).
Another study applied mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in elderly people experiencing depression. All participants in this study were over 65 years of age. The patients themselves felt that the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy techniques were very helpful in relieving depression. The researchers felt that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy could be a cost-effective method for depression therapy (Smith et al., 2007).
Two particular methodologies in cognitive behavior-therapy have proven to be very effective. The first is known as Dialectical Behavior Therapy. The second is known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Both of these methodologies are centered on mindfulness practices (Chapman, 2006). (the two different methods were developed in completely different ways. Dialectical Behavior Therapy was developed by Marsha Linehan in the early eighties. She was working with suicidal women with borderline personality disorder. She found that her patients were reacting poorly or even dropping out of the techniques she had been using. To counteract these tendencies, Linehan introduced mindfulness and Zen practices. Additionally she brought in acceptance-based practices. Linehan sought to show her patients with these methods that she accepted them and to help them accept themselves. Dialectical Behavior therapy was constructed by modifying existing therapies being used with clinical experience and research Chapman, 2006).
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was created by Steve Hayes from scratch. Hayes was doing research studying how language and thought creates and maintains emotional problems.
Out of the research he developed a model of psychopathology. Hayes found that language and thought patterns can trap a person into behavior that would increase or continue their emotional distress. The key discovery was “experiential avoidance.” Experiential avoidance entails a person doing everything they can to avoid or to flee unwanted internal feeling. Hayes developed a therapy that focuses on the patient being led to accept themselves and their experiences (Chapman, 2006).
The treatment of depression remains an active focus of research for positive psychology and mindfulness. The benefits of introducing these techniques into the therapists repertoire are easily seen in the above examples. Positive psychologys emphasis on improving the quality of life of depression sufferers will no doubt continue to win converts. The mindfulness-based cognitive therapy process has become so well established that it has been offered in book form to the general public (M. Williams et al., 2007).
Not all applications of positive psychology have been wildly successful. Part of the problem is its newness. Positive psychology has not been tested with great rigor as of yet. Studies have tended to be small scale and of limited duration. Some study methodologies have not been constructed to high scientific standards. Another issue is a lack of consistent terminology and theory between studies which makes them very difficult to compare directly (Ospina et al., 2007). There is, however, enough evidence of actual improvement in the study patients condition that further and more scientifically sound studies are very worth investing in (Coelho, Canter, & Ernst, 2007).
One interesting investigation studied the effect of mindfulness on the therapist. Would the mindfulness benefits that have been seen to occur for patients also aid therapists in their work? One would expect that it should. Oddly enough, the result was a qualified no. For certain highly structured therapies, mindfulness was found to be a distraction. (Stanley et al., 2006).
The answer seems to lie in how people learn. When a new skill is learned, a person must focus on what they are doing. Think carefully through the process on step at a time. Once learned a task is delegated to procedural memory and the person ceases to think actively about it. Mindfulness forces a person to focus on the process again which can disrupt the smooth performance of the skill. A highly structured therapy is designed.