Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy seems to be a feasible treatment for patients with bipolar disorder

New research provides some preliminary evidence that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is beneficial for patients with bipolar disorder. The study has been published in the International Journal of Bipolar Disorders.

MBCT is a group-based psychological treatment that helps people change the way they think and feel about their experiences by combining elements of cognitive therapy with meditative practices.

“MBCT has become an increasingly popular intervention for a wide range of psychiatric disorders. However, research on the effectiveness of MBCT for bipolar disorder is still in its infancy, even though MBCT is regularly being offered to people with bipolar disorder in routine clinical practice,” explained study author Imke Hanssen of Radboud University Medical Centre.

“We intended to bridge this gap by investigating whether MBCT is a feasible, effective and safe intervention for people with bipolar disorder when conducted in heterogeneous patient groups in routine clinical practice. We included people with major depressive disorder as a comparison group, because there are numerous studies already supporting the efficacy of MBCT for that target group.”

The researchers assessed 30 patients with bipolar disorder and 501 patients with unipolar depressive disorder who received MBCT at the Radboudumc Centre for Mindfulness in the Netherlands.

The participants attended six to eight weekly sessions, in which qualified mindfulness teachers provided them with guided meditation exercises and psychological education. The participants were also asked to complete home assignments for 30 to 45 minutes per day.

The therapy appeared to be just as effective for patients with bipolar as patients with unipolar depressive disorder. The researchers found reductions in depressive symptoms and worry, and improvements in well-being, mindfulness skills, and self-compassion in both groups.

“MBCT seems a feasible and acceptable intervention for people with bipolar disorder when conducted in routine clinical practice, and it does not seem to be less effective for bipolar disorder compared to major depressive disorder,” Hanssen told PsyPost.

“However, we want to emphasize the importance of structural monitoring of adverse effects during MBCT and the need for clear assessments before including people with bipolar disorder in order to determine whether MBCT seems suitable at that point of time, or whether other evidence-based treatments are more appropriate.”

Hanssen and her colleagues are in the process of conducting more research to better determine the efficacy of the treatment.

“The next step is to establish whether MBCT is a feasible, (cost-)effective intervention for bipolar disorder as investigated by well-powered randomized controlled trials. Currently, we are conducting such a study ourselves. For more information please see our study protocol,” she explained.

“I would like to emphasize the importance of qualified mindfulness teachers to conduct MBCT in severe psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder. The teachers should be competent in recognizing adverse effects, and how to respond to this adequately. ​”