Exploring compassionate attributes and skills among individuals participating in compassion-focused therapy for enhancing well-being

Marion Sommers-Spijkerman*, Teuntje R. Elfrink, Constance H.C. Drossaert, Karlein M.G. Schreurs, Ernst T. Bohlmeijer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Objectives: The conceptual approach of compassion underlying compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is based on theoretical rather than empirical grounds. The aim of the present study was to seek empirical support for components of compassion as outlined in the theoretical model underpinning CFT, and to explore which components, if any, matter most for improving well-being. Design: A sequential exploratory mixed methods design was employed. Methods: Alongside a randomized controlled trial (RCT), we systematically examined 625 emails sent by 87 RCT participants to five counsellors during the course of a well-being enhancing CFT self-help intervention, to identify theoretically based compassionate attributes and skills. Next, in a quantitative analysis, we compared participants who did and did not show clinically relevant improvement on well-being with regard to the occurrence of compassionate attributes and skills. Results: Although the theoretical model of compassion integral to CFT was largely supported by the emails, it was slightly simplified so as to better fit the data. The adjusted model comprises five compassionate attributes (i.e., care for well-being, sensitivity, empathy, distress tolerance, and common humanity) and four compassionate skills (i.e., compassionate attention, reasoning, behaviour, and feeling/sensation). Three illustrative cases are presented to contribute to a better understanding of fundamental components of compassion. Quantitative analyses indicate that participants showing clinically relevant improvement on well-being expressed significantly more compassionate feeling/sensation compared to those who did not. Conclusions: We found preliminary evidence for the conceptualization of compassion underlying CFT. Compassionate feeling/sensation bears particular interest when well-being is the intended outcome of CFT. Practitioner points: Individuals participating in compassion-focused therapy for enhancing well-being experience a wide range of compassionate attributes and skills. Compassion-focused therapy may instigate well-being if a client is able to experience compassionate feeling/sensation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print/First online - 22 May 2019



  • UT-Hybrid-D
  • compassion-focused therapy
  • mixed methods
  • well-being
  • compassion

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