Compassion Based Therapy – Interview

I’d like to introduce dr. Chris coma dr.
Kristin Neff and dr. Paul Gilbert I’m going to be asking them about their
interest in compassion and self compassion and how it all got started
and where they are now really so if I could start with you Chris how did you
get started with self confessions compassion yeah so I’ve been practicing
in the Buddhist tradition in the Terra bada Buddhist tradition for many years
and I’ve been also involved in the interface of Buddhist psychology and
Western psychotherapy some colleagues and I wrote a book in 2005 called
mindfulness and psychotherapy but it was actually only after that time that I
went on a retreat and I was going through a rather rough time you know the
usual dark night of the soul and retreats in the meditation teacher said
would you just practice loving kindness meditation you know which is a form of
self compassion training in I went back and did that and it really transformed
my experience of meditation let’s say bringing in the quality of
loving-kindness and compassion into our awareness and then I started working in
the clinical setting in that way in other words I discovered professionally
as well that it’s just really hard to beat with our experience unless the
awareness is just fused with kindness particularly when we’re dealing with
really disturbing thoughts and feelings and emotions and so I’ve now actually
come I’m of the opinion now that when we practice mindfulness in a clinical
setting it really needs to be led with compassion and kindness in order to in
fact be able to be with what’s happening in our daily lives
thank you Chris and Kristin do you want to share your beginnings with this well
it just began for me on a very personal level when I was finishing up my PhD
back in 97 I was a stressed-out PhD candidate and I decided to I wanted to
learn to practice Buddhist meditation again in the Insight Meditation
tradition just helped me deal with my stress and the very first night I went
to this Buddhist group to learn about meditation the woman leading who
actually talked a lot about self compassion and it was so important to
have compassion for yourself as well as other people and it just that was really
one of those pivotal changing points in my life and I
well not only am I allowed to be compassionate to myself it’s a good
thing and I can do this and I started really relating to the difficulties
difficulties I was going through with compassion and it was immediate you know
it didn’t make it go away but it made it all workable in a way that just the week
before it hadn’t been workable before I understood that this was something we
could try to do so it really transformed transformed my life on a personal level
and then when I got a job as the professor at the University I worked at
UT Austin um I just decided I wanted to research it and kind of somehow in a
very I don’t know how I did it but I created a scale had no idea what I was
doing but I created a scale to measure it and started doing research and then
continuing to do a lot of research compassionately thank you thank you
Christmas and Paul if you tell me about your beginnings yes well my beginnings
are very different because I knew a little bit about what ISM and I’ve been
to one or two retreats but not really very much and so I was working with
patients who struggled with cognitive therapy they would say well I can
understand the logic of thinking differently but I can’t feel better and
so when we started to look at so what’s that about we discovered it they found
it very difficult to generate their alternative thoughts with a helpful
encouraging supportive or kind voice in fact the inner voice that many of our
patients have was cold hasta angry and so forth so the first thing we try to do
is to have them imagine a kind warm voice offering them various alternative
thoughts for their negative thoughts and that proved to be really a lot more
tricky than we thought we ran into a lot of resistance people thought it was a
weakness and indulgence they started to become very cheerful didn’t want to go
to those sort of places so we began there really and then gradually various
colleagues who were in the mindfulness traditions and said you know actually
this is school you know this is spiritual practice called Buddhism and
they have ways of stimulating compassion have you looked at that so I thought
that’s kind of interesting and I sort of vaguely knew a little bit about matter I
didn’t to retreats like that and so we began to look into some of the Buddhist
practices and combine some of the therapy practices for developing emotion
taking from psychodrama method acting chair work and whole lot of other stuff
and doing some imagery and gradually out of that compassion focus therapy emerged
so I’ve kind of come along with Buddhism and obviously done quite a lot of
practice since then but originally we began with trying to develop affiliative
feeling how do you get a definitive feeling for the self within the self
that was the question and so that’s how I got to around thank you Paul
no yeah yes so I didn’t have all this wisdom to friends head so I suppose one
of us three of you is and this is more philosophical question rather than one
to generate definitions it’s more about what does compassion and self compassion
mean to you and maybe that could be a kind of discussion between you really
yeah well if I kick off then we go out the other way so carrying off of that so
we were very interested in the process of abilities experience and affiliative
emotion both coming in it would feel affiliative emotion coming in kindness
supportiveness encouragement all that stuff and also affiliative emotion
getting out and self to self and that took us into attachment theory and so
for us compassion is linked to mammalian caring
behavior where the mother is caring of the child and response to the child’s
distress very sensitive to the child’s distress and the affiliative
relationship to parent child’s a lot of things not only does it soothe and calm
the child that had also teach the child various emotion regulation skills it
also provides a secure base by which the child develops the courage to go out and
explore things so for us and compassion is rooted in a caring system we call its
mentality a cemetery this attachment caring system and what we’re trying to
do for the people we work with is activate that particular kind of process
there’s particular feelings for there so you know we have various ways of
thinking about compassion defining compassion but at root is the ability to
experience a feeling of feeling I suppose us how I think about it yeah so
without precisely defining it for me compassion is the easiest way to think
about it is an experience of open heartedness what does it feel like when
your heart is open and I think we’ve all had moments hopefully many moments when
our heart is open so what is that experience and it’s it’s an accepting
and allowing not shutting anything out of our experience including pain being
open to the open heartedness heart is activating we feel kind caring
connected you towards others or ourselves actually don’t separate
compassion for self and others it’s just so tuned it can have compassion for
ourselves or others so it’s open our hearts are activated and this sense of
interdependence the sense of we’re all part of this larger whole that sounds a
separate self kind of softens and just mean in this field of open-hearted
awareness you know in terms of what the experience of it is that’s really what
it is for me it’s an experience actually yeah so in my in my view I mean to be
perhaps a little technical jackin compassion is the experience of
suffering with the wish to alleviate it and so there’s a quality of
open-heartedness in the presence of pain or suffering and and and but I also but
I also see it as a really fundamental human resource or capacity that allows
us to bear and be with pain and transform it even into something useful
and as Paul was describing you know that it’s it’s it’s actually where you could
say hardwired for this capacity through our social mentality our capacity to
bond which we can then direct also toward ourselves in the form of self
compassion so I think it’s just an extraordinary psychological capacity
resource but most importantly it’s a skill which we can cultivate and which
as therapists we can cultivate in our clients as therapists we can also
cultivate in ourselves to do the work but how do we be how can we be with with
all the difficulties in life without being crushed by it in fact being
energized by it and that’s to wrap it in in this quality that Kristen is talking
about it’s the quality of loving-kindness so in my view compassion
is mostly loving-kindness after we contact pain and it’s a way of living
life really fully not just fugitive from the bad things and
after the good things and I think the key thing is that in our hearts you’ll
kind of know this I mean if we’re distressed or upset we turn to other
people you know when children are distressed together the parent for a
cuddle for understanding for being listened to from being heard for being
encouraged to be surged so in our hearts we all try to regulate the hardships of
life through affiliative loving kind relationships because as Christina were
hardwired for that the key of though is with self compassion as we needed
somehow stimulate those same systems that when we’re struggling there’s a
part of us that could actually do that that can hold that pain suffering threat
unhappiness in in a kind you know like a kind hug if you want because compassion
also provides the basis of courage like with the child it’s the love of the
mother that allows the child to start to explore and engage with things that are
difficult when it came to school the first day or whatever it is so I think
without compassion courage gets tricky to face difficulties and and that’s the
thing that I think was so revolutionary for me when I when I understood that you
could give this to yourself I knew my mother wouldn’t you know what we let her
should you be there for me I would make you feel safe but the first time I was
upset and actually tried giving that for myself yeah it’s like it’s like you know
a chocolate store no one told you about it like you I don’t have to go to this liquorice store to buy chocolate I’ve got my own hybrid oven
oh good do you know it was just so is amazing and exciting and you know this
resource I didn’t even know I had yeah that’s a discovery and and what’s
interesting though is in the process of cultivating self compassion and even
compassion for others we we often have a kind of infatuation phase it is a
discovery and then we the lights go out and then what it does is not enough
movement does it give it room so we kept up this booth at home so at some point
the lights do go out you know so in the initial phase of practicing it’s it’s a
revelation it’s like falling in love we find a part of ourselves and we discover
a kind of a feeling of well-being that that is self generated it’s almost
miraculous but then after a while we also are likely to find that actually it
doesn’t quite work so well anymore and and in a sense that what we say is that
you know all techniques are ultimately destined to fail but what that means is
is that is that we need to refine our intention behind it in other words we’re
actually not practicing in order to manipulate how we feel rather we’re
opening to experience exactly as it is with great kindness and when we do that
then we really move into a true acceptance the true abandoning of
resistance to negative experience just like a mother would relate to a child
that has the flu not trying to drive the flu out but to give care and comfort can
we do that to ourselves and that’s a kind of a process that
go through usually start with a kind of Awakening and then we refine our
intention so that we can open to all of life with this quality of kindness and
then we often find that if we can do that for ourselves and we can also do
for others thank you very much for that insight and
finally I’d like to ask you about where your journey has taken to you currently
you know with your work in compassion and self compassion and perhaps where
you would see the future – this was in some ways so my work was really about
doing the research primarily developed a skill to measure self compassion a lot
of studies on it that that field is really taking off now people doing
research on self compassion how it relates to well-being but I suppose the
path that I’ve been taking more recently is intertwined with this fellows path
which actually happened a fair number of years ago we were both going to a
meditation retreat for scientists sponsored by mind in life I’ve been
doing research at this point and Chris have been doing his work with meditation
and psychotherapy and we are sharing a shuttle right back to back to Boston
Airport and Chris said you know Kristen you’re I love the self compassion work
it’s great you should really create an introvert intervention to teach self
compassion skills and I thought are you crazy
I’m a professor I’m not a therapist I don’t work with people I just like tell
people what you know but what to think you should develop the intervention
because you’re the clinician is your thing working to work in this area and
it was like just shall we okay you know let’s and that’s
really been where the work is going for me I still love the research but I’m
just very passionate about how to teach people the gift of self compassion so we
can do working on this program for about five years and want to say when we’re on
with that now well before I say that I just want to say also that a deep
inspiration for both Kristen – regard has been Paul’s work because Paul’s been
added for you know a decade at least before or more before before we started
working the area of transforming lives through self compassion and so it’s this
cost fertilization across the pond and from different perspectives Kristen and
I come more from the mindfulness perspective Paul comes more from the
evolutionary psychology and CBT perspective and so it’s a wonderful
cross-fertilization that’s going on even like even in this conversation
one of the first workshops I ever taught Paul invited me to get very early on in
my career so yeah he’s had a huge effect I was a deep inspiration in terms of the
so the eight-week training program that Krishna and I have developed we just
completed a randomized controlled trial of that program and I will leave it to
Kristin to tell you the results you should probably see the name of the
program life the mindful self-compassion program yeah we compared people taking
our eight-week program where we teach self compassion skills over eight weeks
to a weightless control group and we found compared to the people who are
waiting to take the course a very very large significant increase in self
compassion for people taking the course but also increases
and mindfulness compassion for others increase happiness reduce stress
depression anxiety more life satisfaction so it’s really the first
data we have on the program it seems very very promising that people are
getting something out of this program and in fact we’ve followed them for a
year we just finished up our one-year follow-up and all the skills have been
maintained in fact people actually have a slight increase in life satisfaction
they do that they had integrated this into their life in a way that kept on
giving that between 6 months 7 years between 6 months of year they’d actually
increased on my satisfaction and so we are both working on writing a manual for
Guilford press a training manual for the mindful self-compassion program and
we’re looking forward to some at some point doing training other people to
teach the program and yeah we keep him pretty busy
thank you you know and again following off the model Paul Gilbert he’s been
kind of the king so King Paul what do you say about this
what are you doing well I think it’s wonderful to see how the model has
developed into an intervention and eight-week program I think it’s just
fantastic and the ability to get data is just wonderful the work that we’re doing
really is developing various therapeutic aspects of compassion so we have a thing
called developing the compassion itself which is based upon some breathing
exercises postures having people do imagery about the kind of stuff they
want to be and we are looking at how we can
facilitate the development of compassion in different groups so we’ve just
finished a study with Glasgow colleagues and drew gloomily and Kristen Burrell on
in say cases and what’s very interesting about that is that people who compared
to the treatment as usual group people who did the psychosis groups the
compassion groups a second’s their ability to narrate their lives became
much more coherent so almost as if their mentalizing functions are improving
we’ve just published a study looking at eating disorders so the ability to
create and practice the concept of becoming a compassionate self and then
use that concept of a compassion self to be able to work with whatever comes up
like with the angry self or the frightened stuff one of
you’ve always got this self to come back to that does seem to be helpful to some
people and there are various other exercises as well the main thing cause
now is to do proper randomized control trials but that’s sort of megabucks
really but what we’re looking forward to doing that so we call it compassion of
focus therapy is not compassion therapy what that means is that if you’re doing
acts or CBT whatever you can integrate the compassionate approach right so a
lot of the skills that you learn with these different models of therapy you
can still do that I mean it’s that’s good stuff it’s just that if they don’t
create an definitive experience in the context of the work that doesn’t
emotionally buys and when you start to create an emotional context and
definitive expense in the context of the earth then you run into all of the
resistances then you run into all the blocks and the attachments
the trauma the grief and that then becomes the work of the compassion to
actually how people reconnect with the capacity to feel connected to former for
the different issues with themselves and others and as I say we were just talking
earlier today Kristin comes to little Christine Chris we’re talking about
Shane and the big issue is shames as you begin to tap it in the sense of
loneliness what shame has disconnected you from becomes big and then you have a
grief and for many of these folks of course the grief is overwhelming because
they don’t have an affiliate of it capacity the whole grief so they shut
down so what where were sort of bumbling along really and learning from our
patients and try to improve our techniques I think the important point
that Paul is making is many people think they think of compassion they think of
something syrupy sweet so a sugarcoating reality and so forth and actually in the
practice of compassion for therapy and also our mindful self-compassion program
it’s really quite the opposite what people learn to do as I was alluding to
before is open to suffering but what’s even more to the point is that people
are opening to quite profound early childhood experience the ways basically
when we give ourselves unconditional love we discover actually the conditions
under which as children we did not receive love so it’s almost as if
when we shine the light into dark places we can actually see what’s what’s been
lurking there so this is this is actually a really a profound
transformative process but what what allows it to work is because people are
steadily building this resource or this capacity for compassion in other words
there’s almost like a homeostasis in the mind which knows that now I can begin to
touch this thing now I can begin to look there because I have the capacity to
take care of myself when dangerous things come up so it’s
it’s a quite a transformative process it is definitely not sugar coating and it
goes into some of the deepest areas often unconscious areas a relational
matrix out of which our sense of self was created and when I find fascinating
especially as non-clinician working to clinicians is how why the Ark is a self
compassion in terms of you know there are a lot of people who had very healthy
upbringing who on the surface seem like they got it all together who desperately
need self compassion and that sometimes those people are really suffering
because they’re perfectionists didn’t I’ve got it all together I’ve got money
my parents were okay and talented and then you start you know feeling
miserable if you are perfect all the time to the people of these horrible
histories and they are touching their lives that a mess and everyone in
between we all needs help it’s really it’s really this fundamental
basic human need I think that’s why I think we inspires all of us and it’s
touching something so core to what it means to be human
yeah I mean we I bet you just come back from America and we were these radio
shows the number of the commentators said we did this because we’re such a
competitive society okay we’re closing down we’re spending more times on our
you know iPhones and we’re losing contact of face-to-face interactions and
it’s all about what I could do how I’m going to succeed or not as the case may
be and so people feel under enormous pressure to try and keep up passer exams
every year so there’s a lot in Western society which is making people self
monitor self monitor self judged salchow subjects all the time in our
entertainments now there are a lot of competitive entertainments where it’s
about who we’re going to check out this week that big brother who’s going to be
checked out this week where is 30 years ago we focused on the winners and all
the losers would go to the pub and get drunk together you know but that doesn’t
happen now losers are isolated in the week so there’s a lot going on in our
society which is actually creating this perfectionistic I have to do what I have
to do well and then this real critical voice if you don’t it means you’re
losing and no good is going to want you and that’s a terrible position okay thank you so much
the three of you when you bought Kristin and Chris for sharing your wisdom and
your thoughts and so candidly so thank you very much I think it’s being great


  1. How great trio! Gilbert (left) is intelectual, academic, cerebral. Kristin is feminine, soft,"hearty" and Germer is great equlibrium…

  2. Well Paul your books are great but very expensive for a depressed guy on the dole. Will you be compassionate and send me a signed copy of "The Compassionate Mind"….. Pause… i thought not! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Thank you all – Dr P resonated especially for me … after many years I haveย a 'handle' on how to cope … early days butย all makes sense … wish me luck Buddha ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. @Moodie Onroody I bought several of his books in the end. I was only kidding ๐Ÿ™‚ Owe his approach a lot as mindfulness and self compassion a lot more effective for me than pill popping. I meditate a lot now.

    Back atcha ๐Ÿ˜•

  5. I was really looking forward to listening to this talk but the sound quality is very poor. Any chance there might be sound technicians in the University of Derby who could enhance the recording? Pretty please ๐Ÿ˜€

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