November 2015 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:

Doubt Yourself as a Therapist? Great! (As Long as You Love Yourself)

Do these items ever describe you as a therapist?

Lacking in confidence that you might have a beneficial effect on a patient;
Unsure how best to deal effectively with a patient;
Distressed by powerlessness to affect a patient’s tragic life situation;
Disturbed that circumstances in your private life will interfere with your work;
In danger of losing control of the therapeutic situation with a patient;
Afraid that you are doing more harm than good in treating a client;
Demoralised by your inability to find ways to help a patient;
Unable to generate sufficient momentum;
Unable to comprehend the essence of a patient’s problems.

The results of this study indicate that higher endorsement of these items is related to better client outcomes. However, there’s a catch – this effect is moderated by therapist self-love. That is, therapists higher on self-love had clients who benefited more from their self-doubt, whereas therapists lower on self-love had clients who did not benefit from their self-doubt.

Take away: When you notice the above list of therapist self-doubt items going through your mind, you may want to notice them as good news, and then work on loving yourself.

Read more: 
Nissen‐Lie, H. A., Rønnestad, M. H., Høglend, P. A., Havik, O. E., Solbakken, O. A., Stiles, T. C., & Monsen, J. T. (2015). Love Yourself as a Person, Doubt Yourself as a Therapist?Clinical psychology & psychotherapy.

The Role of Self-Compassion in PTSD Treatment

This study followed an inpatient sample of people with PTSD to assess the role of self-compassion in the course and outcome of treatment. One group of patients received standard prolonged exposure therapy and another received imagery re-scripting in which they were instructed to have their current self visit their traumatized self at the most difficult point in the memory and offer support and care. The authors found that several components of the self-compassion scale, and especially self-judgment, predicted subsequent reductions in PTSD symptoms, but that the treatment condition did not make a difference. The authors interpret the lack of difference between the conditions as possibly explained by fear of self-compassion interfering with the effectiveness of the imagery re-scripting condition.

Take away: More evidence that self-judgment and shame may be maintaining factors in PTSD. More work is needed to determine the best way to target these issues in PTSD treatment.

Read more:
Hoffart, A., Øktedalen, T., & Langkaas, T. F. (2015). Self-compassion influences PTSD symptoms in the process of change in trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapies: a study of within-person processesFrontiers in psychology6.

Upward and Downward Social Comparisons Inhibit Prosociality

In this study, participants were told that they were being recruited in order to re-norm an inkblot test. In reality, participants were shown an inkblot and then given false feedback that was either upward-comparison feedback stating that they their results indicate that they were less intelligent, creative, and sincere than others, downward-comparison feedback stating that they were more intelligent, creative, and sincere than others, or no feedback. Two days later, participants were asked to rate their engagement in prosocial behaviors for the previous two days. Both the upward- and downward-comparison groups showed less prosocial behavior compared to the control, and this effect was mediated by empathy.

Take away: Since high self-critics tend to view self-other relations in terms of power and hierarchy, we wonder if high self-critics may tend to engage in less prosocial behavior. If so, we wonder if this may lead high self-critics to have less fulfilling social connections and maybe be lonelier than low self-critics?

Read more:
Yip, J. J., & Kelly, A. E. (2013). Upward and downward social comparisons can decrease prosocial behaviorJournal of Applied Social Psychology43(3), 591-602.

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