March 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:

Self-critical perfectionism predicts less empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard from therapists

The Rogerian conditions of empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard predict better outcomes for depressed clients (Zuroff et al., 2010). This follow-up study examined predictors and moderators of Rogerian conditions. Among the findings of this study were that higher self-critical perfectionism in clients predicted lower Rogerian conditions in therapists and that higher client expectations of warmth predicted increased Rogerian conditions relevant to the average client. In addition, higher levels of baseline self-critical perfectionism predicted a less potent effect of Rogerian conditions on outcome.

Take away: High self-critics get less warmth from their therapists and benefit less from the warmth that they do get compared to the average client.  One way of using this information to benefit your clients is to ask your highly self-critical clients what gets in the way of receiving your warmth and to ask yourself what you need in order to offer warmth to someone who is highly self-critical?

Read more:
Zuroff, D.C., Shahar, G., Blatt, S.J., Kelly, A.C., & Leybman, M.J. (2016). Predictors and moderators of between-therapist and within-therapist differences in depressed outpatients' experiences of the Rogerian conditionsJournal of Counseling Psychology, 63, 162-172. DOI: 10.1037/cou0000139  


A seven-minute lovingkindness meditation reduces racial bias against black people

The data have been mixed about the effects of priming positive emotions on racial bias. However, in the current study, results showed that a brief lovingkindness intervention reduced racial bias toward the targeted group. White participants were either guided through a lovingkindness meditation (LKM) or a control imagery condition and then looked at an image of a black person. There was an interaction between intervention condition and race condition such that participants who received the LKM showed reduced bias against black people on the implicit association test (IAT) compared to the control participants, and this effect was not present for Asian people.

Take away: Results suggest that it is possible to reduce racial bias against a specified group in seven minutes using LKM. We wonder if the LKM would also be effective in reducing self-stigma among members of stigmatized groups as well.

Read more:
Stell, A. J., & Farsides, T. (2015). Brief loving-kindness meditation reduces racial bias, mediated by positive other-regarding emotionsMotivation and Emotion, 1-8.


A virtual reality self-compassion intervention leads to improvements in depression, self-criticism, and self-compassion in a clinical sample

This study used an embodied virtual reality paradigm to train compassionate perspective taking in a small sample of adults with clinical depression. Participants were asked to embody first themselves as an adult, delivering compassionate phrases to a virtual child. They next embodied the child and received the recorded phrases from their adult virtual self. This 8-minute intervention was completed three times approximately one week apart. Post-treatment analysis was conducted after the third session and follow-up analyses were conducted approximately four weeks later. Although this study lacked a control condition, limiting the interpretability of the results, depression, self-compassion, and self-criticism improved following the intervention.

Take away: This is an exciting new technology for training up perspective taking and self-compassion, and provides some evidence that being able to embody different perspectives enhances the development of self-compassion. It also supports perspective taking interventions such as interacting imaginging yourself as a small child and expressing compassion and support.

Read more:
Falconer, C. J., Rovira, A., King, J. A., Gilbert, P., Antley, A., Fearon, P., ... & Brewin, C. R. (2016). Embodying self-compassion within virtual reality and its effects on patients with depression. British Journal of Psychiatry Open2(1), 74-80.

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