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BackgroundDepressive symptoms are a common problem in patients with diabetes, laying an additional burden on both the patients and the health care system. Patients suffering from these symptoms rarely receive adequate evidence-based psychological help as part of routine clinical care. Offering brief evidence-based treatments aimed at alleviating depressive symptoms could improve patients’ medical and psychological outcomes. However, well-designed trials focusing on the effectiveness of psychological treatments for depressive symptoms in patients with diabetes are scarce. The Mood Enhancement Therapy Intervention Study (METIS) tests the effectiveness of two treatment protocols in patients with diabetes. Individually administered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) are compared with a waiting list control condition in terms of their effectiveness in reducing the severity of depressive symptoms. Furthermore, we explore several potential moderators and mediators of change underlying treatment effectiveness, as well as the role of common factors and treatment integrity. Methods/design The METIS trial has a randomized controlled design with three arms, comparing CBT and MBCT with a waiting list control condition. Intervention groups receive treatment immediately; the waiting list control group receives treatment three months later. Both treatments are individually delivered in 8 sessions of 45 to 60 minutes by trained therapists. Primary outcome is severity of depressive symptoms. Anxiety, well-being, diabetes-related distress, HbA1c levels, and intersession changes in mood are assessed as secondary outcomes. Assessments are held at pre-treatment, several time points during treatment, at post-treatment, and at 3-months and 9-months follow-up. The study has been approved by a medical ethical committee. Discussion Both CBT and MBCT are expected to help improve depressive symptoms in patients with diabetes. If MBCT is at least equally effective as CBT, MBCT can be established as an alternative approach to CBT for treating depressive symptoms in patients with diabetes. By analyzing moderators and mediators of change, more information can be gathered for whom and why CBT and MBCT are effective.