email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
Maximizing Effectiveness in Dynamic Psychotherapy Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy101 Healing StoriesA Clinician's Guide to Legal Issues in PsychotherapyA Map of the MindA Primer for Beginning PsychotherapyACT With LoveActive Treatment of DepressionAffect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of SelfAlready FreeBad TherapyBecoming an Effective PsychotherapistBefore ForgivingBeing a Brain-Wise TherapistBetrayed as BoysBeyond Evidence-Based PsychotherapyBeyond MadnessBeyond PostmodernismBinge No MoreBiofeedback for the BrainBipolar DisorderBody PsychotherapyBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBrain Change TherapyBrain Science and Psychological DisordersBrain-Based Therapy with AdultsBrain-Based Therapy with Children and AdolescentsBrief Adolescent Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Child Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Therapy Homework PlannerBuffy the Vampire Slayer and PhilosophyBuilding on BionCare of the PsycheCase Studies in DepressionCaught in the NetChild and Adolescent Treatment for Social Work PracticeChoosing an Online TherapistChronic DepressionClinical Dilemmas in PsychotherapyClinical Handbook of Psychological DisordersClinical Intuition in PsychotherapyClinical Pearls of WisdomCo-Creating ChangeCognitive Therapy for Challenging ProblemsCompassionConfessions of a Former ChildConfidential RelationshipsConfidentiality and Mental HealthConfidingContemplative Psychotherapy EssentialsControlConversations About Psychology and Sexual OrientationCoping with BPDCouch FictionCounseling in GenderlandCounseling with Choice TheoryCouple SkillsCrazy for YouCreating a Life of Meaning and CompassionCreating HysteriaCritical Issues in PsychotherapyCrucial Choices, Crucial ChangesDeafness In MindDecoding the Ethics CodeDeconstructing PsychotherapyDeep Brain StimulationDemystifying TherapyDepression 101Depression in ContextDialogues on DifferenceDissociative ChildrenDo-It-Yourself Eye Movement Techniques for Emotional HealingDoing CBTE-TherapyEarly WarningEncountering the Sacred in PsychotherapyEnergy Psychology InteractiveErrant SelvesEssays on Philosophical CounselingEssentials of Wais-III AssessmentEthically Challenged ProfessionsEthics and Values in PsychotherapyEthics in Plain EnglishEthics in Psychotherapy and CounselingExpectationExploring the Self through PhotographyExpressing EmotionFacing Human SufferingFairbairn's Object Relations Theory in the Clinical SettingFamily TherapyFavorite Counseling and Therapy Homework AssignmentsFear of IntimacyFlourishingFolie a DeuxForms of Intersubjectivity in Infant Reasearch and Adult TreatmentFoundations of Ethical Practice, Research, and Teaching in PsychologyFreud and the Question of PseudoscienceFrom Morality to Mental HealthFundamentals of Psychoanalytic TechniqueGenes on the CouchGod & TherapyHalf Empty, Half FullHandbook of Clinical Psychopharmacology for TherapistsHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHandbook of Evidence-Based Therapies for Children and AdolescentsHealing the Heart and Mind with MindfulnessHeinz KohutHelping Children Cope With Disasters and TerrorismHigh RiskHistory of PsychotherapyHow and Why Are Some Therapists Better Than Others?How Clients Make Therapy WorkHow People ChangeHow Psychotherapists DevelopHow to Fail As a TherapistHow to Go to TherapyHypnosis for Inner Conflict ResolutionHypnosis for Smoking CessationI Never Promised You a Rose GardenIf Only I Had KnownIn Others' EyesIn SessionIn Therapy We TrustIn Treatment: Season 1Incorporating Spirituality in Counseling and PsychotherapyInside the SessionInside TherapyIs Long-Term Therapy Unethical?Issues in Philosophical CounselingIt's Not as Bad as It SeemsItís Your HourLearning from Our MistakesLearning Supportive PsychotherapyLetters to a Young TherapistLife CoachingLogotherapy and Existential AnalysisLove's ExecutionerMadness and DemocracyMaking the Big LeapMan's Search for MeaningMetaphoria: Metaphor and Guided Metaphor for Psychotherapy and HealingMind GamesMindfulnessMindfulness and AcceptanceMindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for DepressionMindworks: An Introduction to NLPMockingbird YearsMoments of EngagementMomma and the Meaning of LifeMotivational Interviewing: Preparing People For ChangeMulticulturalism and the Therapeutic ProcessMultifamily Groups in the Treatment of Severe Psychiatric DisordersNarrative PracticeOn the CouchOne Nation Under TherapyOur Inner WorldOur Last Great IllusionOutsider ArtOutsider Art and Art TherapyOvercoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and BehaviorsOverexposedPathways to SpiritualityPersonality and PsychotherapyPhilosophical CounselingPhilosophical Counselling and the UnconsciousPhilosophical Issues in Counseling and PsychotherapyPhilosophical PracticePhilosophy and PsychotherapyPhilosophy for Counselling and PsychotherapyPhilosophy PracticePhilosophy's Role in Counseling and PsychotherapyPillar of SaltPlan BPlato, Not Prozac!Polarities of ExperiencesPower GamesPractical Psychoanalysis for Therapists and PatientsPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPsychologists Defying the CrowdPsychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Human RelationshipsPsychosis in the FamilyPsychotherapyPsychotherapyPsychotherapy and ConfidentialityPsychotherapy As PraxisPsychotherapy East and WestPsychotherapy for Children and AdolescentsPsychotherapy for Personality DisordersPsychotherapy Is Worth ItPsychotherapy Isn't What You ThinkPsychotherapy with Adolescent Girls and Young WomenPsychotherapy with Children and AdolescentsPsychotherapy without the SelfPsychotherapy, American Culture, and Social PolicyRapid Cognitive TherapyRational Emotive Behavior TherapyRational Emotive Behavior TherapyRationality and the Pursuit of HappinessRebuilding Shattered LivesReclaiming Our ChildrenRecovery OptionsRelationalityRent Two Films and Let's Talk in the MorningSaving the Modern SoulScience and Pseudoscience in Clinical PsychologySecond-order Change in PsychotherapySelf-Compassion in PsychotherapySelf-Determination Theory in the ClinicSelf-Disclosure in Psychotherapy and RecoverySerious ShoppingSex, Therapy, and KidsSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySigns of SafetySoul Murder RevisitedStaring at the SunStraight to JesusStrangers to OurselvesSubjective Experience and the Logic of the OtherTaking America Off DrugsTales of PsychotherapyTales of UnknowingTalk is Not EnoughTalking Cures and Placebo EffectsTelling SecretsThe Behavioral Medicine Treatment PlannerThe Body in PsychotherapyThe Brief Couples Therapy Homework Planner with DiskThe Case Formulation Approach to Cognitive-Behavior TherapyThe Challenge for Psychoanalysis and PsychotherapyThe Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Clinical Child Documentation SourcebookThe Clinical Documentation SourcebookThe Complete Adult Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Couch and the TreeThe Couples Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Crucible of ExperienceThe Cure of SoulsThe Death of PsychotherapyThe Education of Mrs. BemisThe Ethical Treatment of DepressionThe Ethics of PsychoanalysisThe Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Gift of TherapyThe Great Psychotherapy Debate: The Evidence for What Makes Psychotherapy Work The Healing JourneyThe Heart & Soul of ChangeThe Heroic ClientThe Husbands and Wives ClubThe Love CureThe Making of a TherapistThe Mindful TherapistThe Mirror Crack'dThe Mummy at the Dining Room TableThe Neuroscience of PsychotherapyThe Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social BrainThe New Rational TherapyThe Older Adult Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Other Side of DesireThe Pastoral Counseling Treatment PlannerThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Pornographer's GriefThe Portable CoachThe Portable Ethicist for Mental Health Professionals The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday LifeThe Problem of EvilThe Problem with Cognitive Behavioural TherapyThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Psychotherapy Documentation PrimerThe Psychotherapy Documentation PrimerThe Psychotherapy of HopeThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Schopenhauer CureThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Talking CureThe Therapeutic "Aha!"The Therapist's Guide to PsychopharmacologyThe Therapist's Guide to Psychopharmacology, Revised EditionThe Therapist's Ultimate Solution BookThe Trauma of Everyday LifeThe Trouble with IllnessThe UnsayableThe Way of the JournalTheory and Practice of Brief TherapyTherapy with ChildrenTherapy's DelusionsTheraScribe 3.0 for WindowsTheraScribe 4.0Thinking about ThinkingThinking for CliniciansThinking for CliniciansThoughts Without a ThinkerThriveToward a Psychology of AwakeningTracking Mental Health OutcomesTrauma, Truth and ReconciliationTreating Attachment DisordersTreatment for Chronic DepressionTreatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety DisordersUnderstanding Child MolestersUnspeakable Truths and Happy EndingsWhat the Buddha FeltWhat Works for Whom?What Works for Whom? Second EditionWhen the Body SpeaksWhispers from the EastWise TherapyWittgenstein and PsychotherapyWorking MindsWoulda, Coulda, ShouldaWriting About PatientsYoga Skills for Therapists:Yoga Therapy
Susan Sontag once wrote that "life, when not a school for heartlessness, is an education in sympathy". We are constantly confronted with other people's lives through contacts, stories, media and work. Not only are we confronted, but we also interact with other people's lives and stories, affecting and stimulating their development. In a recently published anthology on compassion, in which editor Paul Gilbert has gathered texts from clinicians, researchers and lecturers in the field of psychology, Sontag's idea is thoroughly explored from a scientific point of view. It is quite a technical collection of texts. The intended audience is used to reading extensive analyses of psychological phenomena. The level of technicality is, however, surmountable for anyone with some experience of and a genuine interest in the field. And the structure of the book provides excellent guidance. One part is devoted to conceptualizations of the theme, whereas the second part focuses on compassion as a potent part of psychotherapy. However, the anthology as a whole is no clinically detached treatment of a theoretical topic -- the texts rather invite the reader to get down and get immersed. Pediatrician Sheila Wang, for example, summarizes her text with the following: "Compassion invites us to full participation in our humanity, to a full recognition of the oneness of humanity. How will we respond to that invitation?"
Compassion is that concept which is a crucial part of any therapy, but which is, like all nouns that are, after all, verbs, terribly hard to capture in words. The editor Paul Gilbert, professor of clinical psychology, kicks off by presenting a veritable anatomy of compassion, exploring it in social, biological and religious directions. By juxtaposing compassion and cruelty, Gilbert wants to show how human beings can train themselves to choose between these responses when relating to others.
"Our high-level cognitive abilities allow us to step back, reflect, and understand ourselves, and the nature and consequences of our actions. The more we learn about the nature of our minds and how to enact more compassionate ways of being in the world, the more tools we will have for confronting some of the darker sides of our minds -- sides that have also got us where we are."
He comes a long way in showing this.
In order to explain her definition, that "compassion is the feeling that arises from the realization of the deeper reality that we are all connected, we are all one", Wang, in the following chapter, fuses research on physiological and psychological responses to life with Buddhist teachings. The result is a chapter that shows how oneness can be the most primitive as well as the most evolved state of mind. In any case, a most rewarding state of mind. This theme, the rewards of compassion, is followed on in the rest of book -- physiology, biology, psychology and Buddhism are played off against each other in different variations. The question "How can we train ourselves into more compassionate beings?" is equally present throughout the texts. Interesting and thought-provoking harmonies arise.
The second part of the book brings therapy into the play. It focuses on the healing power of compassion; the potentially positive role of compassion as a psychologically beneficial ingredient in mental processes. What is especially vital about these texts is that they bring psychological states of mind that are traditionally thought of as intra-personal into a, for psychological research non-traditional, discussion of how humanity is essentially one. Allen and Knight, for example, expose a thoroughly interpersonal take on depression. In my mind this provokes the thought that depression, the flu of psychological illness, might owe its rampaging among Westerners to the fact that we are severely under-nourished with and under-educated in compassion. Our culture stimulates compassionate behavior merely on a superficial level, whereas real compassion, which is an experience different from what we traditionally consider as pleasant, is as rare as diamonds. And as precious, and possibly as sought-after. Compassion, argue the authors, is an effective antidote to cruelty, which is why we need to develop it. And what is a more common cruelty in the Western world today than depression? Constant self-criticism, neglect of the self's mental, physical and spiritual needs, a prolonged torture of unforgiving attitudes toward all the feelings, thoughts and behaviors that the self is made up of -- that, most definitely, qualifies as abuse... Considering how common depression is among patients today, it is safe to say that for a therapist to break the negative, downward mental spirals of individuals will help create a more secure and loving world. Because treating ourselves cruelly will inevitably affect other people's lives and mental states in a bad way. And as we are more aware today than ever, the proximity to 'the other' is greater than ever before.
The greatest reward of "Compassion" is that it invigorates a word that has been out of fashion for some time. 'Compassion', being a moralized term, extensively used in religious parlance and in summarizing the Golden Rule, has often been regarded as describing something that good people do for others -- almost like charity. "Compassion" is a fresh, non-shaming, non-judgmental look at a concept that desperately needs a revival in Western culture. Its major achievement is to consistently, in every single page, show how we can realize that deep longing of ours, the longing for freedom, not by distancing ourselves from others, but by relating compassionately to them. The texts give new perspectives on compassion and defamiliarizes the concept so that we may learn to know it in a new way.
At the end of the day, though, and at the end of the book, we are inexorably left with what is at the core of what we call compassion; i.e. experience. Having read the book, one conclusion is non-negotiable: compassion is in essence a task of practical nature. It is the task of integrating compassion into every single thought, every single gesture and every single act that one is the source of. It may not be easy, but it is what it is all about. Like Thomas Aquinas once concluded: "I would rather feel compassion than know the meaning of it". This book, however, is good inspiration, guidance and help for getting there.
© 2007 Minna Forsell
Minna Forsell is a psychologist, recently graduated from the University of Stockholm. She currently works as a writer, translator and research assistant. She hopes to pursue a career as a researcher in the field of environmental psychology.