Compassion is the recognition of the suffering of oneself and others, combined with the desire to ease that suffering. Recent studies have found that cultivating compassion may enhance well-being, reduce psychopathology and increase prosocial behaviours, including sharing and helping others. The notion that compassion is a quality that can be cultivated has origins in Eastern philosophies, particularly Buddhist traditions.
More recently, it has been proposed that compassion may be a central component of mindfulness-based psychotherapeutic interventions such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Several compassion-specific therapeutic interventions have also been developed in recent years, including Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) and Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT). Individual compassion exercises, including cognitive, behavioural and mindfulness strategies may also be incorporated into other therapeutic approaches.
Clinical psychologist Dr Paul Gilbert has proposed that the benefits of compassion can be understood from an evolutionary perspective. He suggests that cultivating compassion may help regulate emotions and motivation by activating processes that promote care, kindness and interpersonal connection.
There is also evidence that compassion training may change our neurological responses to the distress of others. These findings indicate that compassion training increases resilience to empathic distress and burnout, which could be particularly relevant for those employed in caring professions, such as doctors and psychologists. Further research is required to deepen our understanding of this growing research area. Compassion training may hold great promise to enhance the quality of our interpersonal relationships and individual wellbeing.
Written by Dr Jessica Carty, a clinical psychologist at Seed Psychology.