I met this week with two wonderful therapists who wanted to discuss the idea of developing a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program in their workplace. We talked about the data supporting the effectiveness of MBCT in helping individuals prevent future depression and reduce residual depressive symptoms. We talked about the wide range of clinical problems and populations for which MBCT has been studied recently. We talked about the studies suggesting a connection between mindfulness practice and clinical benefit and other studies pointing to the types of changes in people’s bodies, brains, and behavior that might help explain such connections. 

All of these are important reasons for developing an MBCT program. They are the gifts that MBCT can offer to clients who are struggling or vulnerable in myriad ways. But our conversation highlighted something else that I hadn’t clearly articulated previously.

Learning and delivering MBCT is also a gift to therapists. 

Both clinicians told me about the complex clinical presentations that they assess and treat on a daily basis, as well as how their clinic operates at a very demanding work pace.  Admittedly, these challenges are not unique. Many clinicians today face increasingly intense clinical demands with correspondingly fewer resources available for meeting them. 

As we spoke, I noticed a sense of excitement and delight arising as I imagined them starting to run MBCT groups and integrate the program’s practices and principles in their clinical work. Of course, I was eager for them to provide their clients with tools that many find are indispensable in their efforts to get and stay well. At the same time, I realized that I also was eager to discover the ways in which each of these wonderful, dedicated therapists might be touched—transformed even—by the experience of learning and delivering MBCT. 

First, my experience is that teaching MBCT connects you, as the therapist, with a sense of discovery and possibility that is less available in other clinical contexts. Often, clients arrive at MBCT groups with an eagerness for well-being in their lives and curiosity about what this training can offer. 

Second, teaching MBCT supports you, as the therapist, in prioritizing your own mindfulness practice and broader self-care. For many of us, it is a lot easier to do things for other people than for ourselves. When time and resources are limited, your own daily practices of self-care can get easily, and often without awareness, pushed aside. In its requirement for therapists to have a mindfulness practice of their own, MBCT formalizes the need to care for yourself so that you can teach others that to which you yourself have already committed.