How technology can help us cultivate a Compassionate Mind

Dr Elaine Beaumont

Cultivating compassion and being open to receiving compassion from others can have a positive impact on our physical and psychological wellbeing. There are a variety of ways we can potentially boost wellbeing. For example, some of us may choose face-to-face therapy, whilst others may prefer online support, virtual reality programmes, self-help books, or personal development apps. Apparently, ninety-four percent of 18–33-year-olds are committed to making personal improvements, which could potentially create a demand for practice-based apps.

Chris Irons and I co-wrote The Compassionate Mind Workbook which is a step-by-step guide to cultivating a compassionate mind. However, whilst the book has helped thousands of people learn to cultivate a compassionate mind, we are also mindful that some people may prefer to digest information via technology. Mobile technologies can deliver digital interventions that can offer practical, interactive exercises with users being able to track and monitor their wellbeing and engage with practices that work best for them. 

Apparently during the Covid 2019 pandemic many people turned to digital tools and self-help apps for support with their mental health. It may be useful in the future if digital mental health apps and self-development apps could be more readily available in routine care.

compassion focused therapy book chapters

Compassionate Mind Training and Compassion Focused Therapy

Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and Compassionate Mind Training (CMT) was developed by Professor Paul Gilbert to help people who experience high levels of self-criticism and shame. As human beings we can easily get caught up in thinking-feeling loops that can lead to self-criticism and feelings that have a negative impact on our wellbeing – this may be an increase in anxiety or a dip in mood if we are worried about something.

Learning to be kinder to ourselves by cultivating compassion has been found to lead to changes in the body and brain, and improvements in psychological health.

CFT is a psychotherapy used in therapeutic settings, whereas CMT is a programme of contemplative, imaginal and body-based practices that we can learn and use to give our wellbeing a boost and help us cultivate compassion. 

An App based on Compassionate Mind Training and Compassion Focused Therapy

The Self-Compassion App

The Self-Compassion App includes exercises, meditations, quotes, a daily wisdom and practice, audios, and prompts, all of which aim to help individuals develop compassion for themselves, experience compassion from others, and be more compassionate to other people. Users to date have reported that they like having the option to either read or listen to the daily wisdom in each session before moving on to the daily practice. 

For example, session five, six and seven focuses on gaining an understanding of our threat, drive, and soothing systems. We discuss how our threat system evolved to protect us from threats but has an impact on our mind and body once activated even if we are not in danger. Our drive system is activated when emotions such as joy and/or excitement are experienced, and its function is to pursue resources (food, relationships, social status, and sexual partners) that are advantageous to us. Whilst both systems are essential for human survival, if we are constantly in threat or drive (fighting, running away or pursuing) we can exhaust ourselves.

The soothing system helps us to rest, recuperate and slow down the busy mind and body, which is an important part of the compassionate mind process.

We can cultivate compassion using a variety of techniques. For example, through compassionate attention (including mindfulness), compassionate behaviour, compassionate thinking, compassionate emotion, and compassionate imagery. In this next section I’ll give an overview of how some people have used imagery and connecting with emotions to help.

Using imagery to slow down our busy minds

We can use imagery for example to help us slow down by creating a place in the mind that is safe, calm, and peaceful. Using a guided imagery exercise helps us connect with our parasympathetic nervous system. This is the script we included in The Compassionate Mind Workbook that can be used to help create a peaceful, calming place in the mind.

Creating an Image of My Safe Place

 Find somewhere comfortable to sit where you will not be disturbed. Take a few moments to adopt your grounded, upright, confident body posture. Engage in your soothing rhythm breathing, allowing your breathing and body to slow down a little.

When you feel ready, spend some time bringing to mind an image of a place that you feel is safe, soothing or calming in some way. This may be somewhere you have been before or somewhere completely ‘made up’. Try not to get frustrated or worried if no image comes to mind for a while, or if you find that several different images come to mind. Mindfully try and stay with the intention to allow an image to come to mind that feels safe, calming or soothing in some way.

When an image has come to mind, spend a few moments being with it. To start with, mindfully pay attention to what you can see in this image. This might be colours, shapes, or objects. Spend thirty seconds doing this. Next, notice if there are any sounds that are present in this image or your safe place. If there are, gently pay attention to these, noticing the different qualities they may have, how they leave you feeling. Spend thirty seconds or so doing this. Now, notice whether there are any soothing or comforting smells that are present here in your image. If there are, again, spend thirty seconds paying attention to this. Next, notice any physical sensations you can feel or things you come into physical contact with or touch, such as the warmth of the sun against your skin or the feel of the grass, or sand beneath your feet. Focus on this for thirty seconds. Maybe you can consider whether you are in your safe place on your own, or whether someone or something else (like an animal), is there with you.

As this is your own safe place, imagine that it has an awareness of you. It welcomes you there and is happy to see you; it wants you to feel safe and calm. Notice how it feels to know that this place wants you to feel supported, safe and at ease. Spend a minute or so just focusing on this.

Given that this is a place in which you can feel at ease, calm and safe, it may be useful to consider what you would like to do whilst being here. Maybe you wish to remain still, content with just ‘being’ in the moment, in this place. Or you might like to explore the place in a more active way, or moving around in this place, walking, swimming, or playing a game. It is your own unique safe place, you can use it in a way that helps you to feel at ease, as well as engaged and interested, with the freedom to explore.

When you’re ready, widen your awareness to the room around you…notice the sounds in the room and bring yourself to the present moment.

Identifying emotions

 

Identifying emotions has also been found to be beneficial for our wellbeing. Emotions help us figure out:

  • What happens in our body when we experience different emotions (our heart rate may change, voice shake, or we may feel like we want to be sick).
  • How often we experience a particular emotion. For example, we may notice that we experience anxiety more than sadness, anger, or fear.
  • What happens to thinking patterns when we experience difficult emotions? For example, we may think “I can’t cope”, “what do others think” and “I can’t do this any longer”.
  • What the emotion wants us to do. For example, anxiety might mean we want to hide away, whereas fear might lead to avoiding situations.

There are many ways we can cultivate a compassionate mind. Using apps such as The Self-Compassion App may be a tool that can helps us cultivate compassion for ourselves, be open to compassion from other people and respond with compassion to others.

self-compassion app

Dr Elaine Beaumont  http://beaumontpsychotherapy.co.uk/

Co-author of:

The Self-Compassion App https://www.selfcompassion.me/

The Compassionate Mind Workbook: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Compassionate-Mind-Workbook-step-step/dp/1472135903

The Kindness Workbook. Creative and compassionate ways to boost your wellbeing https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kindness-Workbook-Compassionate-Creative-Wellbeing/dp/1472143272

If you look at the links below and scroll down to downloadable resources you will find free worksheets, and audio files:

The Kindness Workbook (overcoming.co.uk)

The Compassionate Mind Workbook | Overcoming

Balanced Minds, Compassion Focused Therapy & Self-Compassion

If you’re interested to learn more about what compassion is, some of the difficulties that come with it, and how to practice becoming more compassionate with yourself and others, subscribe to our mailing list where you’ll get updates on our latest blogs.

You can also develop your compassionate mind through our self-help booksaudioscourses and self-compassion app

And if you’d like to work with one of our experienced CFT therapists, you can find more info here