Last updated on 8th July 2011
The British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) encourages the formation of Special Interest Groups (SIG's) in areas that members want to particularly focus on. There has been discussion recently about a possible SIG on Compassion. If you're a member of the BABCP and you would like to be involved, do please let me know (if you haven't done so already). I've made some suggestions about the kind of territory a Compassion SIG might cover (see below), but I very much understand that people who are interested in the SIG, may well not be interested in all the areas I've suggested ... and they may have additional suggestions to add. The aim would be discuss all this further once we see if there at least 15 of us who would like to support the SIG's establishment.
Self-Compassion: Van Dam et al's 2011 paper "Self-compassion is a better predictor than mindfulness of symptom severity and quality of life in mixed anxiety and depression" highlights the potential value of self-compassion and Kristin Neff's very recent book "Self-compassion: stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind" illustrates the considerable current interest in this area. There's a great deal of research on the toxicity of chronic self-criticism and its contribution to depression and other mental disorders. Emerging work suggests that developing self-compassion may be a better path to mental health than trying to build self-esteem. Paul Gilbert's book "Compassion-focused therapy: distinctive features" discusses the development of compassion both for oneself and for others, but Paul is probably best known for his championing of self-compassion to combat shame and self-attacking. Self-compassion is powerfully affected by our early life experiences and it overlaps with the knowledge base of attachment theory. Self-attacking & self-compassion are also importantly worked on in Arnoud Arntz's very successful "Schema therapy for borderline personality disorder" and in Leslie Greenberg's "Emotion focused therapy". A BABCP SIG on compassion should certainly help its members stay up to date with the broad emergence of new research, publications & workshops relevant to self-compassion.
General Compassion: I sometimes feel that the blossoming interest in self-compassion has temporarily outpaced the equally important area of compassion for others. As the Dalai Lama put it "If you want others to be happy, practise compassion. If you want to be happy, practise compassion". Barbara Fredrickson's classic study on loving kindness meditation & wellbeing demonstrated that broad-focused compassion meditation lead to increases in daily positive emotions which in turn lead to increased personal & interpersonal resources and greater life satisfaction. Jennifer Crocker's fine work at the "Self and social motivation Lab" has demonstrated the importance for personal psychological health of other-directed compassion. Similarly Self-determination theory highlights the centrality of "relatedness" to health & wellbeing. In attachment theory, this is the territory of care-giving rather than care-seeking. Improved relationships are often a goal for behavioural activation and for value-driven activity in ACT. Nourishing our interpersonal responsiveness serves these goals extremely well - very much the territory of other-directed compassion. The growing literatures on volunteering, social justice and forgiveness are all relevant here too. I would hope a SIG on compassion would help its members become more familiar with these more general developments in this field.
Compassion in Close Relationships: The roots of our care-seeking & care-giving attitudes & behaviours lie in our experience of close relationships. Love seems of key importance to health status. Assessment using instruments like the "Parental bond inventory", "Intimate bond measure" & "Partner criticism scale" is highly relevant for both physical & psychological wellbeing, but sometimes CBT therapists seem slow to focus on couples issues. Kindness is central to healthy intimacy and research shows that forms of goodwill practice can help to nourish how we are with our partners. A series of papers by James McNulty et al has, however, highlighted the importance of balancing goodwill with appropriate assertiveness. This kind of more complex exploration of compassion in how it relates to assertiveness, or even to other forms of love and to sexuality seems rich territory for a Compassion SIG to consider. I wonder too - in working on how we are in closer relationships - about the value of group work. Certainly therapists themselves have emphasised the value of this kind of "behavioural experiment" experience, and as a dear psychiatrist friend commented when asked why he did peer group work - "We're here to learn to love".
Compassion in the Therapeutic Relationship: This leads straightforwardly to the territory of compassion in the therapeutic relationship. It has been argued that CBT therapists are sometimes in danger of emphasising technique to the detriment of the therapeutic alliance and there are good research-based reasons for being concerned about this. Training therapists in mindfulness can improve their treatment outcomes with clients and there are also encouraging results from broader efforts to help therapists develop better therapeutic alliances. Exploring the value of verbal & non-verbal communication of compassion in therapeutic relationships is territory that has already been well researched and that looks well worth digesting, keeping up to date with, and clarifying for its implications. This all also seems an important area of interest for a possible BABCP Compassion SIG.
It would make extremely good sense for a Compassion SIG to liaise with Paul Gilbert and The Compassionate Mind Foundation. I would see a BABCP SIG, however, having certain functions that the CMF probably doesn't. One of course would be the SIG's particular interest in the relevance of compassion to CBT practice. Another would be encouragement of symposia on compassion at CBT conferences. In fact all the SIG's compassion activities would be slanted towards their relevance for CBT therapists. I'm sure a BABCP SIG on Compassion could benefit hugely from involvement with the Compassionate Mind Foundation, and maybe the CMF might also see some benefits from the activities of the BABCP SIG. I hope so!
So if you're a BABCP therapist and would like to be involved in a SIG on Compassion, do please let me know (if you haven't already done so). Of course this doesn't mean that you're necessarily interested in all the areas I've suggested (above) ... and you may have additional suggestions to add. The aim would be discuss all this further once we see if there is enough support to get the SIG established.