Subjective changes in mind-body attunement associated with transdiagnostic group–based compassion-focused therapy

Abstract

Objectives

A key focus of compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is the facilitation of “felt” change on a bodily level for individuals with high levels of shame and self-criticism. However, while evidence suggests that CFT is effective in reducing psychological distress, research has yet to examine the extent to which CFT facilitates bodily change. The aim of this study was to investigate subjective bodily changes associated with attending a trans-diagnostic CFT group within a mental health service.

Methods

A qualitatively weighted mixed-method design was employed, combining phenomenological and observational elements. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with eleven participants following the group and analyzed thematically. Pre-post self-report data was gathered (N = 23) using the Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness (MAIA) to further examine subjective body-related change.

Results

Results were integrated using the concept of mind-body attunement. Participants’ reported experiences of distress prior to CFT were seen to reflect difficulties with attunement between mind and body. Following CFT, participants’ sense of being attuned to their bodies appeared to increase. This change appeared to be associated with the cultivation of a more self-compassionate mindset; engaging in a regular, compassion-focused meditative or reflective practice, and experiencing shared compassion.

Conclusions

Results suggest that CFT may be helpful for individuals whose psychological distress is at least partly associated with disruption in mind-body attunement. A model outlining the relationship between compassion, mind-body attunement, and positive life outcomes is proposed.

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Authors

Contributions

MM: principal investigator on the study with responsibility for study design, data collection, analysis, and interpretation of results; main author on this paper. KB: contributed to the study design, data collection, analysis, and interpretation of results, as well as to writing of this paper, with a particular focus on clinical issues. SG: contributed to the study design, data collection, analysis, and interpretation of results, as well as to writing of this paper, with a particular focus on issues relating to methodology.

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Correspondence to Marion Mernagh.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee (St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services Research Committee, Protocol 09/16 and Protocol 17/15) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Mernagh, M., Baird, K. & Guerin, S. Subjective changes in mind-body attunement associated with transdiagnostic group–based compassion-focused therapy. Mindfulness (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01417-3

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Keywords

  • Compassion-focused therapy
  • Mind-body attunement
  • Self-criticism
  • Shame
  • Transdiagnostic intervention