March 2017 Research Roundup: Got Gratitude? It does a body (and mind and relationship) good!

We all know how great if feels when someone expresses appreciation to us. But expressing gratitude isn’t only beneficial for the receiver; it does wonders for the giver, as well. The popular YouTube channel called ‘SoulPancake,’ has a series of videos they call the “The Science of Happiness” and we were struck by one video, in particular that demonstrates the impact that expressing gratitude can have on the person who is giving the appreciation. So if you want a bit of a “pick-me-up”, check out this video.

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February 2017 Research Roundup: Compassion, Conflict, and Connection

When we think about health, some perennial pieces of wisdom likely come to mind: don’t smoke, don’t drink too much alcohol, eat more vegetables, exercise. Yet, there are a few important components missing from this conventional health wisdom. Did you know, for example, that having less than three people in your social circle that you feel emotionally close to is risk factor for numerous psychological and physical maladies? Or, that feeling socially isolated is as great of a health risk as smoking or obesity? If you did, congratulations, you wise chap, you. If you didn’t, you’re in good company.

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Lovingkindness for everyone in the room

Those of us who struggle with shame and self-criticism often believe that we are alone and different from others. We may also be more likely to be lonely and to have fewer close relationships, since shame and self-criticism can interfere with connection. In our groups for people who are highly self-critical, we have found that having the group extend wishes of lovingkindness to each group member using personalized lovingkindness phrases can be a powerful connecting experience and can help activate peoples’ social safety systems.

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February 2017 Tool of the Month: Lovingkindness Meditation Tracking Worksheet

It’s apparent from the data that practicing lovingkindness meditation (LKM) has a host of benefits (see our prior blog post if you would like more evidence). However, just knowing that something is good for us doesn’t always mean that we will change our behavior to move toward it -- yep, I’m looking at you, spinach! One way to help support and sustain behavior change is to track our behavior and its consequences. For this reason, when we introduce the idea of LKM in groups or with individual clients, we encourage people to use a daily tracking form. Every day, people can record whether they practiced LKM, what happened during the practice, and if they noticed any changes as a result of the practice. We encourage clients to approach this tracking as a scientist would an experiment—be curious and collect data. We ask them to track any patterns that may have emerged, indicating what worked and what didn’t work. We encourage them to track whether the data support our hypothesis that LKM might be beneficial to their therapy goals, or whether we should try something else.

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January 2017 Research Roundup: All About Altruism

Unfortunately, there often seems to be a wide chasm between what happens in the research lab and what happens on the front lines of clinical work. On the one hand, researchers need to listen to clinicians and learn about their direct experiences with clients. On the other hand, clinicians can benefit from hearing about clinically relevant research. We hope these “research roundups” provide useful summaries of recent research that can improve your practice with highly shame prone and self-critical clients. 

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Holding and Being Held with personalized LKM phrase

heart_in_hand_2_200.jpgVery often the best innovations are born out of collaborations. That is the case with the exercise we want to share with you this month, which we call “Holding and Being Held.” This exercise evolved from one I used when teaching “Abnormal Psychology” to help with perspective taking. Our friend and colleague, Robyn Walser, Ph.D. took that original exercise and modified it to use in pairs in her training workshops. We loved Robyn’s modification. The version you will see here is modified even further for use first in our AWC trainings and now in our “Big Heart, Open Wide” class. We hope that some of you will also be able to add your own modifications to best suit your purposes. And we’d love to hear from you if you come up with versions that you think work well.

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January 2017 Tool of the Month: 18 + 9 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation

Lovingkindness meditation (LKM) is an effective way for highly self-critical people to engage their social safety system. LKM helps highly self-critical clients put a brake on the threat-based loop of self-criticism and negative emotions, and helps clients have a sense of safety and belonging. 

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December 2016 Research Roundup: Viva las Vagus

Unfortunately there often seems to be a wide chasm between what happens in the research lab and what happens on the front lines of clinical work. On the one hand, researchers need to listen to clinicians and learn about their direct experiences with clients. On the other hand, clinicians can benefit from hearing about clinically relevant research. We hope these “research roundups” provide useful summaries of recent research that can improve your practice with highly shame prone and self-critical clients.

In this post, we highlight some important findings at the intersections of physiology, biology and psychology that have actual real-world implications for your clinical work. So, today, what happens in (research laboratories studying the) Vagus, will not stay in Vagus. ;-)

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Working with Clients to Identify Personalized Lovingkindness Phrases

In addition to the sequence of lovingkindness meditations we have created for use with highly self-critical clients, we have found that it is often powerful for the phrases used in lovingkindness meditations to be customized for a particular person. The goal is to identify personalized lovingkindness phrases based on the client’s own idiosyncratic experience that are responsive to their emotional needs. The goal of this is to enhance the activation of the social safety system by making the phrase more personally relevant.

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December 2016 Tool of the Month: Assessing Fear of Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is great. It feels all nice and warm and fuzzy, right? Actually, maybe not, at least not for everyone. In fact, for a lot of folks, particularly those who struggle with chronic shame and self-criticism, compassion can actually be pretty scary! In fact, we know from research that highly self-critical clients tend to find compassion-related cues to be anxiety provoking.  

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