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What MBCT means to me … and the difference it has made

First Impressions

I attended my first Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course in 2015. The event was organised by Passage parent support group in my home country of Luxembourg and wonderfully taught by Patricia Andersson. I was inspired by her calm and embodied way of leading the course and the attitude of kindness and acceptance which she brought to the group and invited us to offer to ourselves.

I had been keen to attend an eight-week course for a while but was finding it difficult to access one in English. In fact, I’d been practising mindfulness for a few of years by then. I’d first been introduced to Mindfulness when completing my mum and baby Yoga training as an NCT Postnatal Group Leader in the UK.

However, my practice didn’t really take root until we moved to Luxembourg. I found the transition difficult and although I tried to throw myself into my new life by keeping busy - a familiar pattern - and volunteering for a host of English speaking groups as a way to meet new people, inside I felt lost and lonely.

Finding peace in a frantic world

My mum, recognising my distress bought me a special Christmas present that year - the book: Mindfulness: finding peace in a frantic world.

The book is cowritten by Professor Mark Williams, one of the developers of MCBT and Dr Danny Penman. The aim of the book is to offer an accessible way into Mindfulness as a route to increasing personal well-being.

The book guides you, week by week, through an eight week program. Back in 2013 it was accompanied by a CD. Nowadays you get an online link to all the guided meditations. Of course, there is also an app.

After a one false start, I completed the 8-week program at home and noticed that, when I made time to meditate, I felt calmer and more at ease. However, I will admit it was difficult to maintain momentum and, once I’d finished the book with its guidance over eight weeks, my daily practice became a little hit and miss.

So, when the opportunity to attend an in-person eight-week MBCT course presented itself I jumped at the chance.

Tapping into personal motivation and group accountability

Attending a live in-person course is completely different to completing the programme through a book. Having to organise my life - the kids were still quite young at that point - to attend the weekly evening sessions took commitment. Making time for the daily home practice even more so!

But, by now, I was clear that I was not only doing this for myself but also for those around me who I cared for. You see, I’d started to notice that, when I made time for my meditation practice, I was calmer, felt more grounded in my own skin and more able to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of daily life.

I’d also noticed I was less grumpy with my family! Many of us can be great at presenting a facade of okayness to the outside world but when we’re at home, allowed to be our ‘shoes off’ self, our old patterns of vulnerability, sadness or maladaptive coping often reveal themselves in our behaviour. This was certainly true for me and I wanted something to change. I wanted my family to be seeing the best side of me … not saving the worst for them.

So, I was motivated. I went to class each week, I contributed to the group discussions and I tried my best to do the home practice. And I knew that, whether I had managed to complete all the home practice that week or not; whether my experience of a guided meditation in class has been positive or challenging; whether I was finding things easy or hard, there was space to share and discuss in the group. The group leader demonstrated an attitude of kindness and acceptance to what each member of the group had to offer and helped us to support and appreciate each other as a group.

The potency of attending with a group

There is also something very special about meditating together in a group. In the early days of my meditation practice I found it really helpful to listen to guidance. There is so much available online nowadays and it’s a great resource. However, being guided in real time, by a familiar teacher and practising alongside a group who share similar aims and aspirations for attending the course creates a special chemistry which adds potency and meaning to the meditation experience.

During lockdown, I was fascinated to experience first-hand how this potency could be just as powerful in a live online group. In fact, due to Covid the first two years of study for my part-time Masters degree in Mindfulness Based Approaches were taught on-line. At first I was sceptical how it would work but I was soon converted by the convenience and accessibility of no lengthy commute and being able to practice live and online in community with others. I have since completed a number of 8-week courses on-line to support my ongoing practice including the wonderful MBCT for Life curriculum.

A bit a background on MBCT

MBCT was first developed in the late 90s as a program which combined mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and group learning as a cost-effective way to treat individuals at high risk of depressive replace. After a number of rigorous clinical trials the evidence was clear that the program was effective. Participants who had attended the 8-week program were 1/3 less likely to relapse than those who had not. In 2004 the program was recognised by NICE, the UK body the the National Institute of Clinical Excellence as the recommended treatment for those who experience three and more episodes of depression.

More recently these NICE guidelines have been extended to recommend mindfulness as one of a range of alternatives to antidepressants to be offered to people experiencing ‘less severe depression’.

MBCT itself has its roots in MBSR - Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

which was developed in the late 70s by Jon Kabat-Zinn as a program to support individuals living with a chronic pain, debilitating health conditions, stress or anxiety. He describes the program as integrative mind-body medicine.

Since it’s birth in the late 90s, the MBCT curriculum has been developed to support specific audiences - such as those MBCT-ca for living with a cancer diagnosis. It has also been broadened to support general public audiences for example the MBCT for Life course which is designed to support individual well-being and a life of thriving.

Noticing the impact

And what difference has it made for me personally? I’ve mentioned that, initially, I noticed general feelings of calmness and feeling less grumpy with my family when I made time to practice meditation regularly.

As my practice has deepened, I’ve noticed that I’m able to be kinder to myself. I notice when my inner critic starts shouting loudly and I’m able to thank her, reconising she’s only trying to keep me safe by trying to make sure I do a good job, without taking on her harsh comments as an objective truth. In Mindfulness parlance this is called de-centring. Thoughts are just thoughts. Not facts. And I don’t need to identify with them.

I also have a very different relationship with my lifelong low mood and depression. Now, when sad feelings or a bleak mood overcome me, I’m able to see them for just that, transient feelings and moods that will passed through in their own time. Knowing this, and being able to offer myself mindful self-compassion means I can ask, “How can I best care for myself right now?”

And, along the way, these insights have led to the desire to share my passion for mindfulness, and the impact it has made in my life, with others. This led me to enroll on the Masters in Mindfulness Based Approaches with the world-renowned Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University.

Studying for the Masters has been such nourishing experience. Working alongside inspirational like-minded fellow students and teachers who are world thought leaders in the field of mindfulness. I feel such a privilege to undertake this learning, have opportunity to deepen my own mindfulness practice and qualify to share these powerful programs with others.

You can read more about me and the mindful courses I offer on my website and I would love to have the opportunity to explore the impact mindfulness could have on your life at one of my mindfulness courses, events or coaching sessions.

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