Cognitive-Behavioral TherapyMindfulness

Comparing mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy

In the past few years this weblog has published dozens of entries on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Therefore, it’s a good time to define and distinguish between these psychological treatment options.

To do this, I interviewed Irene Matiatos, PhD, who maintains a psychology practice in New York. She is also my wife and perhaps better known as Dr. Irene on the website called “Dr. Irene’s Verbal Abuse (Site).” Her homepage is here.

Dr. Irene described CBT as “today’s gold standard for treating anxiety and depressive disorders.” It’s contributions to mental health have been documented through well designed and conducted clinical trials.

In practice, CBT focuses on the person’s current issues and symptoms. “Painful emotional states,” says Dr. Irene, “are often the product of irrational beliefs or faulty logic.” Cognitive psychologists seek to “change the person’s thinking to minimize these symptoms.” Usually, the therapist sees the patient weekly, and these sessions are supplemented by daily practice exercises that help them apply CBT skills in their daily lives. “Individuals,” Dr. Irene continued, “are rarely aware that their thoughts are destructive, but almost always experience relief as they change their thinking patterns.”

By comparison, “Mindfulness is based on Eastern philosophy,” said Dr. Irene. “For us in the West, it’s the ‘new kid’ on the block.” Rather than dealing with thinking, mindfulness addresses problems in psychological function that occur because painful emotions are avoided.

Again, patients are not aware of avoiding their feelings, but the objective of therapy is to “help the person experience all emotions ? especially negative ones ? in the here and now.” Emotions are viewed as a normal and inevitable part of life. Avoidance of emotions leads to more avoidance, more symptoms, and a tendency to “wallow in pain instead of moving on to the next moment and the next feeling life brings.”

Thanks, Dr. Irene. I’ll cook tonight.

7/19/06 22:02 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.