Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy

Research has shown that the degree to which a patient develops self-compassion over a course of therapy significantly predicts symptom improvement. Current clinical evidence suggests that an explicit additional focus on self-compassion may increase the effectiveness of evidence-based psychotherapeutic treatments that aim to improve emotion regulation and self-acceptance.

Which kind of problems may benefit?

Shame and self-hatred

When we have received little affection, love or comfort in childhood or even suffered neglect, abuse and contempt, we are more prone as adults to feel shame, to put ourselves down and to feel unworthy of leading healthy relationships. We might struggle to cope with distress and resort to self-injurious behaviour to feel better in the short-term. We might struggle to experience calming and containing emotions such as safeness, connection, kindness and joy. However, these are precisely the emotional resources we need to regulate strong feelings of shame, despair and fear of rejection. Anxiety, depression, burnout and relationship problems are some of the many unintended consequences of our best efforts to adapt to and survive in our early environment.

Grief and Loss

Inevitable losses such as being diagnosed with an illness or the death of a loved one may trigger grief or hopelessness in us. Self-compassion can teach us how to comfort and encourage ourselves to recover in our own time and eventually regain strength, hope and joy for life.

Low Self-esteem

Some people are deeply dissatisfied with themselves despite holding great potential or having achieved a lot in life. If we look beneath these high hopes or actual achievements, we may discover a gaping hole: a sense of never being good enough. We try to cover up this aversive feeling by striving for approval and recognition through achievement or attractiveness. Covering up through striving works until we become exhausted from overworking or we become handicapped by lingering fears of failing or being found out to be a fraud. Self-compassion can support us in befriending our imperfections and in learning to appreciate ourselves as a complete human being – with strengths and weaknesses. In embracing ourselves more fully, we can free ourselves from unnecessary pressure, align with our personal wishes and enjoy our successes.

How does a therapy focused on compassion work?

Therapist as a courageous and compassionate companion

The understanding, kindness, hope and clarity we receive from a psychotherapist can help us to let compassion in and to begin to develop compassion for ourselves step-by-step. This is a necessary foundation for any psychotherapy.

The integration of self-compassion into psychotherapy starts with us becoming authentic human beings. Psychotherapists and other helping professions are faced with suffering on a daily basis, which places us at a high risk for self-neglect and burnout. Recent neuroscientific research suggests that compassion protects helping professions against burnout by energizing us. All that is required is to remember to include ourselves in the circle of good will.

Compassion is not an abstract technique, but a kind and wise attitude towards suffering. We realize that as human beings we are all subject to suffering and that compassion is the only adequate response to loss, stress, sickness, loneliness and disappointment – for therapist and patient alike.

Studies suggests that the promotion of self-compassion within our patients appears to be a key transtheoretical mechanisms of change in psychotherapy. Research also indicates that our inner attitude towards ourselves is transferred to the patient and may affect the course of therapy. To contain the suffering of our patients without burning out, we require compassion for our patients and ourselves. MSC Training is ideally suited for therapists who wish to learn how to sustain compassion.

Compassion contains and clarifies

Psychotherapy that focuses on the development of compassion may help us to gradually feel safe and connected again – both with ourselves and with others. When the patient feels safe enough, therapist and patient work together to develop tailored exercises aimed at strengthening the patient’s compassionate self. On this journey, stumbling blocks such as fears of emotions or of change typically arise. These can be overcome with enough patience and skilful guidance by the therapist. From the perspective of our wise and compassionate parts, we may begin to understand, to embrace and to integrate unloved parts of ourselves; we may see the helpful intentions behind our seemingly unhelpful emotions and personality parts and may begin to utilize them. By transforming and integrating old pain in this way, we may experience more contentment, joy and more satisfying relationships.

Psychotherapy, MSC or both?

When we are experiencing intense emotional distress that interferes with our ability to hold down a job or to maintain relationships, we may benefit from psychotherapy with a licensed mental health clinician.

At times of intense emotional distress individual psychotherapy with a licensed mental health clinician offers the safest way to learn self-compassion since a clinician can tailor the treatment to your individual needs.

If you are not experiencing intense emotional distress or have fully recovered, then you may benefit from group-based Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) Training. It is, however, up to the discretion of each individual MSC Teacher to decide if they consider you suitable for a training upon screening and possibly interviewing you.

Recommended reading

Gilbert, P. (2010). Distinctive Features: Compassion Focused Therapy. Routledge.

Germer, C. & Siegel, R. (2012). Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy. Guildford.

Kolts, R. (2016). A Clinician’s Guide to Compassion Focused Therapy. New Harbinger.

TALKS & WORKSHOPS

on Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy
with Dr. Christine Braehler:

Psychotherapy

In English, German
Private insurance or self-pay only.