THE SCIENCE OF COMPASSION

One of the fundamental principles of CFT is that it is deeply rooted in basic clinical science and the sciences of human evolution, rather than a theoretical model of psychotherapy.

Basic science of compassion

 One of the fundamental principles of CFT is that it's closer to the principles of clinical science instead of relying on a particular theoretical approach to therapy. It draws on the knowledge and findings of basic science to try to better understand how the evolving functions of the nervous system intervene in mental health problems. From these principles it has tried to develop therapeutic interventions based on that science.

 

In fact, clinical psychology is reaching a point where it begins to be less conditioned by loyalty to private therapy schools and is closer to being grounded in basic science. We can see a certain dissociation between the science of process and the science of outcome, because they have not developed jointly or in a coordinated manner.

 

There is strong evidence of the effectiveness and importance of a good therapeutic alliance, and of specific interventions, such as: exposure to situations, emotions and mental events avoided, behavioural experiments, working with images, guided discovery, learning emotional and behavioural regulation skills, to name just a few. These empirically supported treatments play a central role in personal change and recovery. However, CFT suggests that the way, i.e., the how how the individual participates in these processes (Gilbert, 2019) can determine much of his or her willingness to be involved in them and the effectiveness of the intervention.

Applied science of compassion

 A recent systematic review (Craig, Hiskey & Spector, 2020) demonstrates that CFT has positive effects on people suffering from a range of mental health problems and is likely to be more effective than no psychological treatment and possibly more effective than other interventions. CFT increases self-compassion and also leads to reductions in clinical symptoms, even in difficult-to-treat populations. Currently, group CFT has significantly more evidence of effectiveness than individual and self-help interventions. Therefore, in terms of practical implications, these findings indicate that a moderate number of sessions (at least 12) are those that are probably required to achieve levels of efficacy with clinical significance. This may be important for funding bodies and health managers to consider when allocating mental health care resources in the light of current evidence-based practice.

 

Bearing this in mind, the further implications of this review are that CFT is feasible, well accepted by patients and can be offered as a complement or alternative to existing therapies. CFT was initially developed as a response to the transdiagnostic nature of human suffering, in the belief that cultivating a compassionate "self and others" mentality may be a universally useful strategy. Gilbert's recent work (2019) refers to this point by pointing to the fragmentation between process research and psychotherapeutic interventions over time. 

As such, the future potential of the CFT approach could be to support a move away from rigid adherence to traditional schools (or brands) of therapy, towards a more unified and holistic perspective. This is not to dismiss the usefulness of diagnostics, as they remain important for translating experience into a common language, but to offer a broader (and cross-cultural) vision through which to conceptualize the common elements of emotional distress/mental health.

The current trend of CFT research in various populations continues apace, and new methods for cultivating a compassionate mindset are likely to emerge over time. Such developments could encourage the continued extension of compassionate approaches to areas outside the field of mental health and clinical behavioral science. We already see the CFT approach and the evolutionary model behind it being applied in education (Welford and Langmead, 2015) and in the business/organizational arena (Anstiss, 2017).

References

Anstiss T. (2017). Compassion at Work. En: Oades L.G., Steger M.F., Delle Fave A. et al. The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Positivity and Strengths‐Based Approaches at Work. Wiley-Blackwell.

Craig, C., Hiskey, S., y Spector, A. (2020). Compassion Focused Therapy: a systematic review of its effectiveness and acceptability in clinical populations. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 20(4), 385-400. DOI: 10.1080/14737175.2020.1746184

Gilbert, P. (2019). Psychotherapy for the 21st Century: An integrative, evolutionary, contextual, biopsychosocial approach. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice92(2), 164-189. https://doi.org/10.1111/papt.12226

Welford, M., y Langmead, K. (2015). Compassion-based initiatives in education settings. Educational & Child Psychology, 32, 71–80.

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