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BackgroundThe investigation of treatment mechanisms in randomized controlled trials has considerable clinical and theoretical relevance. Despite the empirical support for the effect of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in the treatment of recurrent major depressive disorder (MDD), the specific mechanisms by which MBCT leads to therapeutic change remain unclear. Objective By means of a systematic review we evaluate how the field is progressing in its empirical investigation of mechanisms of change in MBCT for recurrent MDD. Method To identify relevant studies, a systematic search was conducted. Studies were coded and ranked for quality. Results The search produced 476 articles, of which 23 were included. In line with the theoretical premise, 12 studies found that alterations in mindfulness, rumination, worry, compassion, or meta-awareness were associated with, predicted or mediated MBCT's effect on treatment outcome. In addition, preliminary studies indicated that alterations in attention, memory specificity, self-discrepancy, emotional reactivity and momentary positive and negative affect might play a role in how MBCT exerts its clinical effects. Conclusion The results suggest that MBCT could work through some of the MBCT model's theoretically predicted mechanisms. However, there is a need for more rigorous designs that can assess greater levels of causal specificity.

BackgroundThe investigation of treatment mechanisms in randomized controlled trials has considerable clinical and theoretical relevance. Despite the empirical support for the effect of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in the treatment of recurrent major depressive disorder (MDD), the specific mechanisms by which MBCT leads to therapeutic change remain unclear. Objective By means of a systematic review we evaluate how the field is progressing in its empirical investigation of mechanisms of change in MBCT for recurrent MDD. Method To identify relevant studies, a systematic search was conducted. Studies were coded and ranked for quality. Results The search produced 476 articles, of which 23 were included. In line with the theoretical premise, 12 studies found that alterations in mindfulness, rumination, worry, compassion, or meta-awareness were associated with, predicted or mediated MBCT's effect on treatment outcome. In addition, preliminary studies indicated that alterations in attention, memory specificity, self-discrepancy, emotional reactivity and momentary positive and negative affect might play a role in how MBCT exerts its clinical effects. Conclusion The results suggest that MBCT could work through some of the MBCT model's theoretically predicted mechanisms. However, there is a need for more rigorous designs that can assess greater levels of causal specificity.