August 2016 Shame and Self-Compassion Research Update

Every month, we scour the scientific literature for interesting studies that have practical implications for therapists working with shame, self-criticism, or compassion. Below are a few of our favorites for this month:

The first randomized controlled study of a self-compassion intervention in a Japanese sample

Shame and self-compassion may function differently in collectivist cultures. However, no published study to date has examined whether self-compassion practice may be beneficial in interdependent cultures such as Japan. Using a sample of people low in self-compassion, this study examined a program included loving-kindness meditation (LKM), mindfulness training, compassionate mind training using imagery, compassionate letter writing, three-chair work, and compassionate behaviors and compared outcome to a control group. The authors found improvement in several domains such as anxiety, depression, and shame.

Take away: Although more research is needed on self-compassion practice in collectivist cultures, as well as on the role of acculturation in samples of people from collectivist cultures living in the US, this study provides preliminary support for the use of compassion-focused interventions with this population.

Read more:
Arimitsu, K. (2016). The effects of a program to enhance self-compassion in Japanese individuals: A randomized controlled pilot studyThe Journal of Positive Psychology, 1-13.


Anxiety decreases perspective taking

Anxiety tends to cause people to feel uncertain in comparison to other emotions, like anger or disgust, which cause people to feel more certain. In this series of six studies, the authors examined whether incidental anxiety (i.e., anxiety that is triggered by unrelated prior experiences), decreased participants’ perceptual and conceptual perspective taking. In the studies investigating perceptual perspective taking, the authors induced anxiety versus other emotions, and found that anxious participants were less likely to report the locations of objects in space from the perspective of another. In the studies looking at conceptual perspective taking, they found that anxious participants were more likely to use knowledge that only they had (e.g., this email was meant to be sarcastic) to interpret the experiences of someone else without that knowledge. In another study, they found that the decreased perspective taking was explained by appraisals of uncertainty.

Take away: When your clients are experiencing anxiety, they may not be able to take others’ perspective. This is relevant to shame and self-criticism, because they may be more likely to believe you see them as “bad” when they see themselves as “bad.” Psychoeducation about this tendency may help clients to understand this bias and how it works, rather than taking it as truth that you, or others in their lives, view them negatively.

Read more:
Todd, A. R., Forstmann, M., Burgmer, P., Brooks, A. W., & Galinsky, A. D. (2015). Anxious and egocentric: How specific emotions influence perspective takingJournal of Experimental Psychology: General144(2), 374.


Finding your internal compassionate supervisor

We have previously shared research showing that therapists who doubt themselves tend to have better outcomes, as long as they also love themselves. This new qualitative study uses a modification of compassion-focused therapy (CFT) techniques to help providers feel compassion for themselves. The authors used soothing rhythm breathing, and also modified scripts from CFT about the perfect nurturer, and using the perfect nurturer to help to create guided recordings for providers to cultivate their inner compassionate supervisor. The authors review themes from the data including benefits from the practice and experiences of overcoming blocks to the practice.

Take away: Therapists can use these recordings (which may be requested from the authors) to enhance their own self-compassion, have a better sense of clients’ experience in doing self-compassion exercises, and potentially improve their outcome!

Read more:
Bell, T., Dixon, A., & Kolts, R. (2016). Developing a Compassionate Internal Supervisor: Compassion‐Focused Therapy for Trainee TherapistsClinical Psychology & Psychotherapy.

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