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MBCT vs. CBT – Unraveling the Differences and Benefits


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that aims to shift negative thought patterns into positive ones. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a form of CBT. While similar in nature, these two therapies have differences that play a role in how effective they are for individuals. It’s important to understand these differences and the benefits of each.

We’re going to explore each therapy, their use cases and advantages to help you make a more informed decision when choosing a treatment option.

MBCT and CBT are two forms of therapy that are similar in nature and aim to help patients recognize their negative thought patterns. In this article, we’ll unravel the differences between MBCT and CBT while exploring their benefits and applications in treating mental health conditions.

What is CBT?

CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy, and it is a form of psychotherapeutic treatment. The goal is to help the patient recognize that maladaptive behaviors are caused by certain thought patterns.

Patients are encouraged to take a closer look at their negative thoughts and measure them against reality. Once they realize that their thought patterns are unfounded in reality, healthier thought patterns begin to emerge.

Simply put, CBT aims to disrupt the cycle of negative thought patterns and replace them with healthier, more productive ones.

Many patients have had success with CBT, and it has become a common form of therapy. One survey found that 69% of psychologists in the U.S. use CBT as part of their practice.

Here’s a simplified example of CBT in action:

Let’s say that you ask a friend to join you for dinner, but they decline because they are busy. This is the third or fourth time they’ve declined recently. You may think that your friend doesn’t want to hang out with you because they no longer like you – not because they are busy. This thought pattern leads you to start thinking that most people don’t like you. You start feeling down, tired and anxious, so you wind up spending another Friday night in.

CBT would encourage you to consider the worst-case scenario around this and then the most positive possibilities. Taking this approach would allow you to find a balanced, middle-of-the-road way to see it. Maybe your friend is a little annoyed, but they still like you and really are just busy. With this new realization, you feel less down and anxious.

Benefits of CBT

When you consider the example above, you can see how CBT has the potential to offer many benefits.

CBT can help patients:

  • Develop healthier thought patterns
  • Learn how to manage and cope with anxiety and negative thought patterns
  • See improvements in as little as 5-20 sessions
  • Treat a variety of maladaptive behaviors

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective whether it’s done in person or online. It can be used even for individuals who don’t require psychotropic medication and is considered more affordable than other forms of therapy.

Difference between MCBT and CBT

What Does CBT Help With?

CBT can help with a variety of conditions, including but not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias
  • Eating disorders
  • Anger issues

While CBT is well-known in the psychology field, another form of this therapy is gaining attention: MBCT.

What is MBCT?

MBCT stands for mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. It is a newer form of CBT that incorporates some alternative therapies, such as:

  • Meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness stretching
  • Body scan exercises

MBCT has the same goal as CBT: to help patients take control of their thoughts and behaviors. It combines the principles and techniques of CBT with those of mindfulness-based stress reduction programs.

But rather than actively asking patients to shift their thought patterns, MBCT teaches patients how to detach or decenter themselves from their thoughts. For example, rather than saying, “I am angry,” MBCT patients would be encouraged to say, “I am having the thought that I am angry.”

In other words, the feelings are not you and you do not take ownership of them. They simply are.

The approach is more about experiencing, being with and accepting your thoughts. Breathing techniques can help you get through these difficult moments.

Ultimately, MBCT helps patients develop the skills and tools they need to be with their thoughts and to breathe through stressful situations. These are skills that can be applied to everyday life long after treatment has ended.

Benefits of MBCT

MBCT offers many benefits, including:

  • The ability to regain control over your thoughts
  • Improved mood
  • Less stress

Many of the same benefits of CBT can also be experienced with MBCT.

What Does MBCT Help With?

MBCT can help with many of the same conditions that CBT can help with, including but not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Treatment-resistant depression
  • Low mood or unhappiness


Because these two therapies are so similar, you may be wondering: what’s the difference between CBT and MBCT?

There are quite a few similarities between CBT vs MBCT. Both of these therapies:

  • Are short- to medium-term in treatment length
  • Aim to help the individual adjust their reactions to feelings, thoughts and experiences
  • Can be used to treat anxiety, depression and other conditions
  • Provide the tools and skills to cope with life after treatment ends

The primary difference between these two therapies is the approach to adjusting the patient’s perspective on their thought patterns. In both therapies, patients learn to acknowledge their thought patterns.

Difference Between CBT and MBCT


  • MBCT encourages patients to acknowledge that these thoughts are not facts. Patients learn how to detach from their thoughts, experience the present without judgment and take an objective look at their thoughts.
  • CBT aims to change negative thought patterns into positive ones. But rather than simply accepting and moving on, patients are encouraged to take action or shift their thinking.

If you’re considering CBT or MBCT, you may be wondering which therapy is right for you. There are several factors to consider, including:

  • The nature of the mental health issue
  • Personal preference
  • Your therapist’s recommendations

MBCT may be more effective for certain individuals, while others may need to actively change their perspective and way of thinking to see results. Your therapist can help you explore both options and determine which one will be the right choice for you.

Final Thoughts

CBT and MBCT are very similar in nature, but they take different approaches to addressing negative thought patterns. MBCT encourages patients to be with their emotions and accept them without judgment. CBT encourages patients to actively change their thought patterns. Both have advantages and should be considered when seeking treatment. Consult with a healthcare professional to find the right option for you.



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