What is mindfulness-based stress reduction?

Mindfulness is a psychological technique that is used to decrease distress and increase the ability to live life in the present moment. This can help with a range of difficulties like reducing thoughts or feelings associated with mental health problems associated with anxiety and depression or reducing physical pain. Many people confuse mindfulness for meditation and, whilst similar, the purpose is not always the same. With mindfulness, we are trying to zone in to be aware and present in the moment. 


Mindfulness forms a key underpinning of 3rd wave cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT) in particular acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). In addition to this, it can also be its own standalone therapy by following the protocols of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. The core components of which will be explained below.

The history of mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice which originates from Hinduism and Buddhism and is heavily linked to yoga and religious practice but more recently non-religious meditation. Originally it was popular in the East with spiritual institutions. Mindfulness was first brought over to Western culture by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Oasis Institute for Mindfulness-based Professional Education and Training. This is where the first mindfulness-based stress reduction programme was created. 

The reason that mindfulness was brought over to Western culture was that originally Kabat-Zinn worked at the Massachusetts hospital in chronic pain. He and his patients were at a point where medications were not working for a select group of people experiencing crippling chronic pain and so he began to teach an 8-week group on managing pain using mindfulness he had learnt from a Zen missionary talk at MIT university. From this, it was found that physical pain decreased and that these people were able to reengage with their lives again when practising regular mindfulness. This then sparked research into what other medical and psychiatric uses mindfulness could benefit.

What does mindfulness-based stress reduction involve?

Mindfulness is an active therapy whereby using a variety of different meditations and activities incorporating all five senses you will be taught how to live in the present moment. This allows you at any time to focus on what is important and leave distressing thoughts or sensations to the side. It does not get rid of these thoughts or sensations but helps you learn how to have mastery over them and your mind, and putting them to the side so that other more helpful and beneficial things can be focused on.

What problems is mindfulness used for?

Mindfulness can be beneficial for everyone because it enables us to be more:

  • Psychologically present.
  • In touch with your own values.
  • Able to make room for unavoidable pain.
  • Able to defuse from unhelpful thoughts beliefs and memories.
  • Able to take effective action in the face of distress.
  • Engage fully in life and appreciate each moment regardless of how we are feeling.

Research has shown that mindfulness can be equally as effective as antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication. Mindfulness can be used for a variety of different problems including:

  • anger
  • anxiety
  • chronic pain
  • depression
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • personality disorders
  • relationship difficulties

How many sessions?

8 sessions are usually a good place to start but depending on the problem more sessions may be needed. It is called practising mindfulness because it takes time to get the hang of it and master it; a skill that you need to continue working on both in and out of the therapy room.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Salford, North West, M50 3UB
Written by Dr Gregory Warwick
Salford, North West, M50 3UB

Dr Gregory Warwick is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist and Director of Quest Psychology Services (https://questpsychologyservices.co.uk/) that offers counselling and psychological help in Salford, Manchester.

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