Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for severe health anxiety (hypochondriasis): An interpretative phenomenological analysis of patients’ experiences


Dr Freda McManus, University of Oxford, Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, OX3 7JX (e-mail: freda.mcmanus@psych.ox.ac.uk).


Objective.  Severe health anxiety (hypochondriasis) is a common and disabling condition for which existing psychological treatments have limited effects (Thomson & Page, 2007). Hence, it is a priority to examine both the efficacy and acceptability of new psychological treatments for health anxiety. The aim of this study was to explore the experiences of participants with severe health anxiety who received Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as part of a randomized controlled trial.

Design.  Semi-structured interviews were carried out 3 months after participants completed MBCT in order to explore their experiences of the course and subsequent self-managed practice.

Methods.  Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith, 1996) was used to analyze interview transcripts from nine participants who had received MBCT.

Results.  Two main themes emerged from the analysis: (1) My awareness of barriers to experiencing change through MBCT, and (2) Cultivation of a new approach to health anxiety and my life in general.

Conclusions.  The majority of participants considered MBCT to be an acceptable and beneficial treatment for health anxiety. Participants reported beneficial impacts of MBCT both on their health anxiety and on their broader functioning. Importantly, the focusing of attention upon bodily sensations required in MBCT practice did not exacerbate participants’ health anxiety.