Compassion-facilitation after Trauma
Shepstone, Laura Louise
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Literature Review: Background: Compassion-facilitating interventions (CFIs) seek to increase feelings of reassurance, safeness and well-being, and are suggested as a new psychotherapeutic approach to treat post-traumatic stress. Objectives: This review summarises and synthesises the literature investigating CFIs for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in clinical adult populations. Method: A systematic review of the experimental and intervention literature to date was completed using PubMed, PsycINFO, and Web of Knowledge databases. Results: CFIs show large to medium effect sizes in reducing PTSD in traumatised populations. However, many studies did not compare these interventions to active control conditions, and for the few studies that did, compassion-facilitating interventions were not better at reducing PTSD than the active control conditions. There was also not enough evidence in these studies to indicate a mechanism of change in these interventions. Conclusions: CFIs may be an effective intervention in PTSD, but more high quality research is needed to establish their efficacy over and above well established PTSD treatments. More research is also needed to identify the psychological mechanisms at work in decreasing PTSD symptoms Empirical Paper: Objective: Compassion-facilitating interventions are thought to be promising for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is theorised that inducing self compassion through a compassion-facilitating meditation task would interrupt the psychological processes that cause emotional distress and trauma-related intrusions that form post-trauma. Methods: A student sample (n = 72) was exposed to a trauma-film and then either listened to a neutral-emotion audio mediation or a compassion-facilitating meditation (CFM). Self-reported distress, self-compassion and self-criticism were measured at baseline, post-film, post-audio meditation and for seven days following the experiment. Measures of sympathetic arousal and parasympathetic activation were measured at baseline and during the trauma film and audio meditation. Trauma-related intrusions were measured for seven days following the experiment. Results: Lower self-reported distress and higher self-compassion were reported over the seven day follow-up, but not directly after the meditation. No statistical differences between conditions over time were found for any of the physiological measures but skin conductance was higher in the CFM group, contrary to predictions. There were also no statistical differences found between the two conditions in terms of sum daily intrusions following trauma-exposure. Conclusions: This research supports the hypothesis that facilitating self compassion can disrupt some of the observed processes post-trauma, namely felt distress, although only after a delay. These findings are relevant to the theoretical models of PTSD and future clinical interventions.
Doctor of Clinical Psychology