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Mentalisation-based therapy

Mentalisation-based therapy (MBT) is a type of long-term psychotherapy. Mentalisation is the ability to think about thinking. 

It helps to make sense of our thoughts, beliefs, wishes and feelings and to link these to our actions and behaviours.

Mentalisation is a normal capacity that we all use in everyday life. It underpins all human relationships. However, some people find it more difficult to mentalise in certain situations than others. 

MBT aims to improve a person’s capacity to mentalise. We focus on what is going on in their mind and in the minds of other people and link this to understand and alleviate problematic behaviours. 

Who it’s for

Mentalisation-based therapy is suitable for children, young people and adults. 

Issues we can help with

Mentalisation-based therapy can help with:

  • borderline personality disorder
  • other personality disorders
  • eating disorders
  • depression
  • trauma
  • drug addiction

It’s particularly useful for people who live with from long-term difficulties in relationships and who experience intense emotional distress and overwhelming feelings which may result in destructive behaviours such as self-harm or aggression towards others. 

It is also helpful for people who may be distrustful of other people and have difficulty in reading other people’s responses to them. 

Mentalisation-based treatments can be used to help children, young people and families who live with psychological difficulties. 

Length of treatment

Individual mentalization-based therapy sessions last for 60 minutes. Group sessions last between 75 and 90 minutes depending on the treatment programme.

Treatment programmes can last for 12 to 18 months.


During assessment you have two to four initial meetings with your therapist to understand what your difficulties are and to consider the most appropriate treatment. 

We look at how your difficulties have developed, what keeps them going and what treatments you have had to date. 

You are asked to complete questionnaires during the assessment that help you and your therapist to monitor the progress of your work together over time. 

Therapy sessions can be individual, group or a combination of both. After assessment we usually offer initial group therapy sessions, followed by 12 to 18 months of weekly group and weekly or monthly individual sessions.

Therapy sessions

During mentalisation-based therapy sessions you focus on difficulties in your current life situation to improve your understanding of yourself and others. You focus on what is going on in your mind and think about what might be going on in other peoples’ minds, particularly in situations which may cause a strong emotional reaction and problematic behaviours. 

When you focus on understanding your own and other people’s thoughts and feelings, MBT can help you to better understand and control your impulses, emotions and behaviours. This can improve your relationships with other people. 


Clinical trials have shown that mentalisation-based therapy is an effective treatment for borderline personality disorder, with symptom improvement sustained years after the end of treatment. 

Ongoing research studies indicate that it is also effective in many other conditions, including antisocial personality disorder, eating disorders, depression and drug addiction. 

Risks and side effects

Mentalisation-based therapy is not a quick fix.

Talking and thinking about emotional problems can be difficult. You may feel anxious about talking in a group. For this reason some people can feel worse before they feel better. We work with you to manage strong emotional reactions.


Mentalisation-based therapy is not for everyone. There is a range of alternative treatments that your therapist talks to you about during assessment. 

Other psychological treatments include: 

  • Psychoanalytic psychotherapy

    Psychoanalytic psychotherapy is a talking therapy based on saying whatever is going through your mind. This helps you become aware of hidden meanings or patterns in what you do or say that may contribute to your problems.  Many people come to us because they feel they are trapped by their past and want to talk…

  • Group therapy

    Group therapy is a useful way for people who share a common problem to get support and advice from each other.  In group therapy up to eight people meet together with a therapist. Group therapy uses psychoanalytic psychotherapy. This type of therapy is concerned with how things are here and now. The group looks at…

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy

    Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that looks at the way our thoughts and feelings affect the way we behave.  CBT is based on the idea that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle. It aims to help…

  • Family therapy

    The aim of family therapy is to find ways for family members to help each other. In family therapy, a therapist works with families and those in close relationships who experience problems.  The therapist explores their views and relationships to understand the problems they are having. It helps family members communicate better with each other.…

In some cases patients are helped by medication which can be prescribed by a doctor and on rare occasions by our staff. 

Patients may choose not to take up any form of professional help for their issue and manage the problem themself. 

Questions or worries

Therapy can bring up difficult issues. We want you to feel able to discuss any questions or worries with your therapist. This is important to progress your therapy. 

If you would like to discuss any concerns with someone independent of your therapy please contact our patient advice and liaison service.