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Cultivating Mindful Self-Compassion

Ronda Diegel, PhD, LP will present Cultivating Mindful Self-Compassion on November 15 as part of the MSP Continuing Education (CE) series.  In this blog, Dr. Diegel explains the personal and professional interest in self-compassion that led her to create the workshop.

During the 2013-14 academic year, I participated in the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy’s 9-month certificate program, Mindfulness and Psychotherapy.   A comprehensive exploration of the integration of mindfulness and psychotherapy, I learned research validated applications of mindfulness for a wide range of clinical populations and conditions from the leading teachers in the country.  My classmates, 34 psychotherapists (psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors) from around the world, came together for our final retreat at the conclusion of the program.  As we shared aspects of learning experience that were most meaningful for us, almost every one of us, myself included, identified the practice of self-compassion as a highlight of our program.

It was little wonder that the idea of “self-compassion” had such a strong resonance.  For years I sat with clients who, as though they were bathed in shame, denigrated themselves with self-criticism and ruminated relentlessly on their past mistakes.   I might offer an observation like, “you are so hard on yourself,” dive into the history around the thoughts, challenge the accuracy of the self-judgment, and explore the depth of suffering that occurred by buying into the harsh inner critic. 

Despite the efforts, I often felt ineffective.  Years later, I remember, with sadness, my client who wrote “you are boring” on sticky notes and hung them all over her home in self-punishment for what she saw as her social failure.  Not only did I see my clients suffer, but I too struggled with a punitive critical inner voice who, at times, made me feel inadequate and unacceptable.

Kristin Neff, PhD, a research psychologist at the University of Texas-Austin and a pioneer researcher on the topic self-compassion, was one of my teachers in the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Program.  She reported that in 2002 there were only two studies on self-compassion in the professional literature.  In 2012, there were over 200 and I would guess that today that number has doubled.  Undoubtedly, self-compassion is being so widely researched and getting so much attention in popular media because the results are so compelling.  Research reveals that people who score higher on self-compassion scales tend to have more satisfying relationships, enjoy a greater sense of well-being, resiliency, and motivation, while displaying lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.

Dr. Neff was the first to operationally define and measure the construct of self-compassion.  She found that there were three critical elements to self-compassion:  (1) self-kindness (2) a sense of common humanity and (3) mindfulness.  Understanding these three elements creates an opening for a host of clinical interventions to transform self-criticism to self-kindness, self-isolation to interconnectedness (rather that creating a narcissistic view, self-compassion creates a deeper sense of connection and compassion for others), and self-absorption to mindfulness. As we learn to employ self-compassion, we find that in times of suffering we are better able to comfort ourselves, accept that like all humans we will make mistakes, and stop seemingly endless rumination.

At the MSP Mindful Self-Compassion CE workshop, attendees will deepen their understanding of self-compassion, become familiar with the research supporting self-compassion practices, and take part in a number of self-compassion exercises that support a greater sense of emotional and mental well-being. 

Highly experiential, all participants will leave with copies of meditations and exercises that may be employed as clinical interventions as well as utilized for clinician self-care.  If you are curious and would like to “test” your own self-compassion prior to the workshop, you may want to take Dr. Neff’s Self-Compassion Quiz.

Ronda Diegel, PhD, LPRonda Pretzlaff Diegel, PhD, LP is an adjunct faculty member at MSP.  In addition to the CE Workshop on November 15, Dr. Diegel is hosting Metta Yoga, a wellness fundraiser that includes a one-hour “all-levels” yoga class and a 15 minute loving-kindness meditation, on November 18.  All money raised at Metta Yoga will benefit Equality Michigan.