Scientific Lectures | Thorsten Barnhofer

Professor Thorsten Barnhofer is a German Research Foundation Heisenberg-Fellow currently working at the Charité Clinic and the Freie Universität in Berlin. He is also an Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology at the Mood Disorders Center, University of Exeter, UK, an associate teacher at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, as well as an enthusiastic about practicing and teaching meditation. Prior to this, he worked alongside Professor Mark Williams and his team for over eight years, as a researcher, clinician and meditation teacher at the University of Oxford.

His research work ranges from experimental studies investigating the cognitive and biological mechanisms to clinical trials, also focusing on the mechanisms of action and benefits of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), especially when applied on patients suffering from recurrent and chronic emotional disorders. The goal of this treatment is to reduce the risk of relapse and recurrence in patients who suffer from depression, helping them to recognize and disengage from the main distressing mental habits that build up the essence of their susceptibleness. This method combines intensive training in mindfulness and elements from cognitive therapy, and aims to provide a better understanding of the cognitive vulnerabilities underlying recurrent depression, as well as the ways in which the mindfulness approach responds to these.

Twenty years ago we had to rely on the reports of mindfulness practitioners. Now, with new brain imaging techniques, we can actually see the changes which have happened in the brains of people who learn to meditate.Thorsten Barnhofer

MBCT consists in a group treatment programme focused on the latent vulnerability in depression, based on a balance between mindfulness meditation training and cognitive therapy, designed for acute depression. To provide an adequate treatment to each patient, studies are made to access on each patient’s likelihood to develop mood-related reactivation of negative thinking patterns and maladaptive ways of responding to negative cognitions and emotions (such as rumination thought suppression and experiential avoidance). The treatment is based on teaching each participant to develop their own method to recognize and disengage from maladaptive forms of negative automatic and repetitive thinking. As for the results, randomized trials were made and MBCT has been found to decrease the risk of relapse by approximately half in patients with three or more previous episodes of depression, and reduces relapse over a follow-up period of 15 months as maintenance therapy with antidepressants.


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