Improve Empathy and Self-Compassion in College Students with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“When we are mindful of our suffering and respond with kindness, remembering that suffering is part of the shared human condition, we are able to cope with life’s struggles with greater ease.” – Kristin Neff
In the modern world education is a key for success. Where a high school education was sufficient in previous generations, a college degree is now required to succeed in the new knowledge-based economies. There is a lot of pressure on students to excel so that they can get the best jobs after graduation. This stress might in fact be counterproductive as the increased pressure can actually lead to stress and anxiety which can impede the student’s physical and mental health, well-being, and school performance. It is, for the most part, beyond the ability of the individual to change the environment to reduce stress, so it is important that methods be found to reduce the college students’ responses to stress; to make them more resilient when high levels of stress occur.
Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving physical and psychological health and particularly with the physical and psychological reactions to stress and resilience in the face of stress. Additionally, there is a widespread problem that many people don’t seem to like themselves. The antidote to self-dislike is self-compassion. Self-compassion is “treating oneself with kindness and understanding when facing suffering, seeing one’s failures as part of the human condition, and having a balanced awareness of painful thoughts and emotions” – Kristin Neff. Mindfulness has been found to improve self-compassion. But there has been little systematic research of the effectiveness of mindfulness practice in developing empathy and self-compassion in college students.
In today’s Research News article “Effect of Mindfulness on Empathy and Self-Compassion: An Adapted MBCT Program on Filipino College Students.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7139462/), Centeno and colleagues recruited 2 groups of senior college students majoring in psychology who enrolled in a 4-week counseling class either with or without a mindfulness component. They were measured before and after the classes for mindfulness, self-compassion, and empathy, including the perspective taking, fantasy, empathic concern, and personal distress subscales.
They found in comparison to baseline that the group that received the mindfulness training had significantly higher levels of mindfulness, including the describing, observing, acting with awareness, nonjudging and nonreacting subscales, empathetic concern, and perspective taking while the control group did not. Self-compassion was improved in both groups with the mindfulness group having a much larger improvement.
The results are interesting and suggest that mindfulness training is beneficial for college students increasing mindfulness, self-compassion, and empathy. Although the study did not investigate this, the improvements in the student’s mental health should help them in dealing with the stresses of college and improve their academic performance.
So, improve empathy and self-compassion in college students with mindfulness.
“the three features of self-compassion are kindness toward oneself, a sense of common humanity with others, and mindfulness— . . . each of these components buffer people against negative reactions to undesired events, like failure, humiliation, and rejection—all situations that are pretty common during the first year of college.” – Bianca Lorenz
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Centeno R. (2020). Effect of Mindfulness on Empathy and Self-Compassion: An Adapted MBCT Program on Filipino College Students. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 10(3), 61. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs10030061
Attending college is meaningful for many young adults. This period is marked by physical, emotional, and psychological changes that can have both positive and negative effects on college students. The last two decades have seen an alarming increase in the number of college students who suffer from mental health conditions, such as depression, suicide, anxiety, and alcohol abuse. It is recommended that actions to support the students’ wellbeing must be creative and evidence-based. Research suggests that a mindfulness-based intervention may be an effective strategy to address mental health conditions among college students. This study was done to examine the efficacy of an adapted mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) program that was implemented in a classroom setting in the Philippines and to explore how mindfulness practice can affect empathy and self-compassion on senior Filipino college students aged 19–22 years old. Two classes were used to compare the effects of mindfulness intervention. One class underwent the adapted MBCT program while the other class underwent the same kind of class without mindfulness interventions. Self-report measures of the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, Perspective Taking subscale and Empathic Concern subscale of Interpersonal Reactivity Index, and Self-compassion scale—short form were administered before undergoing the adapted MBCT and after the program. After going through the adapted MBCT, college students’ mindfulness significantly improved. Empathy and self-compassion also significantly improved after undergoing the program. This corroborates previous studies done on mindfulness and its efficacy with adolescents and suggests how practicing mindfulness can improve empathy and self-compassion with Filipino college students. It provides a promising groundwork for the emerging interest and research in Asia, particularly in the Philippines, on how the practice of mindfulness can help with the mental health of college students.