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Clin Psychol Psychother. 2014 Nov-Dec;21(6):495-507. doi: 10.1002/cpp.1854. Epub 2013 Jul 24.

An exploration of people's experiences of compassion-focused therapy for trauma, using interpretative phenomenological analysis.

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Oxford Institute of Clinical Psychology Training, The Isis Education Centre, Headington, Oxford, UK.


Self-compassion enhances psychological well-being, and compassion-focused therapy aims to alleviate psychological distress by fostering its development. The experience of becoming self-compassionate for people with complex mental health difficulties has not been analysed in the literature, despite clinical observations that this process is difficult. This study explored the process of becoming self-compassionate for people with posttraumatic stress disorder, using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven participants. Five superordinate themes emerged from the data including: (1) the battle to give up the inner critic: who am I if I am not self-critical?; (2) an aversive and alien experience: how it feels to develop self-compassion; (3) the emotional experience of therapy; (4) self-compassion as a positive emotional experience; and (5) a more positive outlook in the present and for the future. Self-criticism formed an important part of the participants' self-identity, and they experienced an initially aversive emotional response to self-compassion, describing it as a completely new experience and one to be feared. Despite this, they were able to persist with therapy and subsequently experience positive emotional responses to self-compassion. They reported the therapeutic relationship as an important factor making this possible. Participants reflected on several reasons for the aversive nature of developing self-compassion, which are discussed. A process model of the journey from self-criticism to self-compassion is proposed. It is suggested that the obstacles frequently experienced when developing self-compassion can be overcome, instilling hope for both therapists and clients.


Compassion-focused therapy; Self-compassion; Self-criticism; Shame

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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