Compassion in Therapy

ConnectionCue Counselling

Have you noticed that the term ‘mindfulness’ has become mainstream?  Together with talk of kindness and compassion and self-compassion? February is black history month. There is a great deal of concern at the moment regarding racism and so I offer you this article, based on compassion, self-compassion and mindfulness, ending with a quote from the great Martin Luther King.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the paying of attention to each moment in time or to each step of a process. Basically it’s slowing down the speed with which we fly through life and taking time to smell the roses (as they have said for decades!).

Mindfulness becomes easier and strengthens with practice. It is quite hard to do at first. You have to make a conscious effort. “For the next 3 minutes (and use an egg timer perhaps) I am going to notice as much as I can in this room. I will list all the objects I see. Or I will list as many qualities as I can about that clock. Or about that bowl.” Every day do one short exercise.

As you become more used to being mindful, it starts to be automatic. And it becomes easier. Your mindful muscle becomes stronger. 

What Exactly is Compassion?

Compassion is kindness that is also slowed right down. In other words compassion is kindness, hand-in-hand with mindfulness. 

And Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is when you bring that sense of compassion – kindness – into yourself and soothe your own fears and soothe yourself when you feel anxious.

Compassion and self-compassion can, to a certain extent, be learned and strengthened. To begin with you have to make a conscious effort, sustained for a measured short time each day (as for mindfulness above).

Compassion and self-compassion have been found to ease pain and discomfort in a twofold action, by increasing serotonin and decreasing pain sensitivity. In fact, some people with chronic pain use mindfulness and self-compassion as their main sources of pain relief.


A similar concept which included mindfulness long before it became fashionable is NVC which stands for non-violent (or compassionate) communication. I use NVC both in my own personal life and in my work as a counsellor. NVC is a lovely gentle lens through which to look at life, both towards yourself and others. I use NVC with Imago-style therapy and TOT  (Trust Oriented Therapy) as my treatment of choice in couples counselling. I have not found anything else to be as strong, yet gentle or firm, yet flexible and it is very effective.

Recently I listened to an online Mindfulness, Compassion and Self-Compassion seminar and to doctors Kristin Neff and Tara Brach, in particular, who have been championing this work. Both Tara Brach’s and Kristin Neff’s self-compassion came out of personal suffering.  Tara was anxious and depressed – but on top of that she was a type A personality – a perfectionist – and determined to live her live fully. Her work may well be a result of that combination!

I would like to share the following tool, which they use and which I learned from them:

RAIN  –  an easy to-remember-tool for practicing mindfulness

R: recognize what is going on

A: allow the experience to be there, just as it is. Accept that it exists.

I: investigate with interest and care

N: nurture with compassion or self compassion – Put a hand on your heart, literally, and offer yourself kindness. 

Compassion is Stronger Than Hatred

Tara also cared deeply about social justice.  She noticed that there was so much anger and hatred in the social justice rallies she attended and slowly realized that more progress – and real social justice – would come from love and healing rather than anger. 

Tara also realized that the common feelings of shame and fear, that ‘I am not enough” or “I am flawed”, are at the heart of much depression and anxiety. “We create an awful prison for ourselves with our violent words and hatred and cause so much personal pain.”  Self-compassion is a priceless tool.

Kristin Neff turned to self-compassion herself a decade or so ago when she found that she needed extra love and healing to get through a personal issue. She discovered that the more you open your heart to self-compassion, the more you are able to be compassionate of others. What a wonderful discovery! Kristin, Tara and many others have worked tirelessly over the last few decades to bring mindfulness, compassion and self-compassion into therapy.

“Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed”.

Words by a truly great man: Martin Luther-King