MBCT vs CBT: What's the Difference?

Riley Hurst Brubaker

The similarities and differences between MBCT and CBT.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, has become a well-known type of therapy as the conversation around mental health, mostly because therapy has become more normalized in recent years. Another form of therapy that shares similarities with CBT is MBCT or mindfulness based cognitive therapy. 

While these two types of therapies are rather similar, they have differences that may play a part in how well they work for some individuals. In this article, we’ll break down what MBCT and CBT are and what their differences are so that you can have a clearer idea of which one may work best for you. 

Keep reading to find out:

  • What MBCT is
  • What CBT is
  • What the similarities between MBCT and CBT are
  • What the differences between MBCT and CBT are
  • How to decide which one will best work for you!

What is MBCT?

Mindfulness based cognitive therapy is often used for mild depression and anxiety but can be beneficial when used with different forms of therapy for other disorders.

Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a newer form of psychotherapy that combines elements of cognitive therapy with practices of mindfulness or meditation. Mindfulness and meditation are all about acknowledging thoughts and feelings as they come to you without judgment and without the need to change these thoughts. 

When it comes to treating mental health issues, MBCT has been shown to be particularly effective against major depressive disorder. When it comes to treatment of this disorder, it is typically used as a preventative tool to help prevent relapse or recurrence of intense depressive episodes. 

Researchers in the study of MBCT’s effect on major depressive disorder also stated that increased mindfulness is associated with a variety of beneficial outcomes such as reduced pain, anxiety, depression, binge eating, and stress. Mindfulness is characterized by clarity and vividness of the present moment. 

What is CBT?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is helpful with managing many disorders, as well as managing stressful life events. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most well-known forms of psychotherapy. It has been used for decades to treat mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and schizophrenia (often used in conjunction with antipsychotic therapy or antipsychotic medications). CBT is based in American “behaviorism” and is founded on the idea that human behavior is learned and can be unlearned or relearned. 

CBT’s focus is on changing behaviors that restrict or have a negative impact on one’s life experience. It does this by first changing negative or distorted thought patterns, which in turn has an impact on our behavior. 

Mindfulness based cognitive therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy both help with anxiety and depression.
Cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness cognitive therapy are both talk therapies that help with mild depression and anxiety. 

What are the similarities between MBCT and CBT?

MBCT and CBT are both psychotherapies that require work outside of regular therapy sessions. 

MBCT and CBT are very similar in many ways. Both are psychotherapies that are short-term to medium-term in their length of treatment. Both MBCT and CBT have the shared goal of adjusting an individual’s immediate reaction to thoughts, feelings, or experienced events. 

Both MBCT and CBT are used for treating depression and anxiety. They work best for mild cases, but can be used for more severe cases, however, the term of treatment may be longer and may be paired with other therapies. 

Most of all, MBCT and CBT therapies can be implemented into your life even after your time in treatment ends. Mindfulness and the ability to restructure disordered thoughts can be beneficial for many aspects of life.

What are the differences between MBCT and CBT?

While both MBCT and CBT are psychotherapies that focus on acknowledging negative thoughts, they are different in many ways. 

The biggest difference between MBCT and CBT is the way in which they go about adjusting a person’s perspective on their thoughts and feelings. While both MBCT and CBT involve a person acknowledging their thoughts, what they do after that is different for each type of therapy. 


MBCT doesn’t work to change negative thoughts. Instead, it teaches the person to acknowledge that the thoughts are not facts and encourages one to take a wider perspective on the matter. MBCT helps people to experience everything they are feeling at the moment and teaches them how to do so without falling into mental loops of anxiety or depression. 

A distinct aspect of MBCT that sets it apart from CBT is it’s decentering of the individual from their thoughts. They are encouraged to take a somewhat objective look at their thoughts and acknowledge the experience and feelings that they are having in the present moment without judgment. 


CBT works to change negative thought patterns into positive ones. While it may include some of the same aspects of MBCT, such as acknowledgement of the present situation, CBT will then work to change the negative thought patterns. 

An example of CBT’s use could be something like this: if someone does not get a job that they applied for and falls into a loop of helplessness and depression, CBT would be used to acknowledge that the rejection hurts, but that it could be a good opportunity to get feedback on what to improve for the next time that person applies to a job. 

Both MBCT and CBT are types of talk therapies that involve out-of-session work.
Both MBCT and CBT require homework outside of sessions.

Finding one that works for you

If you think that one of these types of therapies would help you best, it’s good to look for a provider who is focused on one or both of these forms of therapy.

While a licensed therapist will likely decide which type of therapy works best for your situation, if you feel that one type of therapy is restrictive or not allowing for progress or recovery, it is important to discuss this with your therapist. 

Starting therapy for the first time, or for the first time in a while, can be a little daunting as it may be difficult to find a therapist who can meet your needs.

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