Compassion is the capacity to be sensitive to the suffering of ourselves and others and the willingness to relieve and prevent it (Paul Gilbert, 2014). It is a capacity inherent in all of us which for many reasons does not always come to flourish. Fortunately, it can be trained, developed and deepened through practice. Compassion is characterised by kindness and receptivity as well as courage and responsibility. Many believe compassion should be directed towards others rather than ourselves. But self-compassion is not a selfish activity. Research increasingly shows that self-compassion is – like mindfulness – key to mental health and goes hand in hand with greater openness and empathy towards others.
What is Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living (MBCL)? MBCL is a mindfulness-based program developed by psychiatrist/psychotherapist Erik van den Brink and meditation teacher Frits Koster, who are both pioneering mindfulness teachers in mental health care in the Netherlands. The MBCL program supports the development and training of compassion towards oneself and others to enhance physical, emotional and relational health and well-being. It is grounded in science and integrates work of Paul Gilbert (Compassion Focused Therapy) and Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer (Mindful Self-Compassion) as well as elements of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Positive Psychology. The MBCL program is suitable as an advanced course after having followed a mindfulness training (MBSR, MBCT or equivalent). It is similarly structured and consists of eight weekly sessions of 2.5 hours, offering explicit exercises to nurture compassion towards oneself and others. The training can be particularly supportive for clients suffering from shame and self-criticism, social isolation, depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain or illness. It was originally developed in the mental health setting but the scope of its application extends much further. It can be helpful to anyone – care-seeker or care-giver – wishing to deepen mindfulness with ‘heartfulness’.
MBCL Foundation Course for professionals
In this three-day seminar participants will experience key features of the MBCL curriculum, including the main themes as well as the major exercises. Themes include:
- the evolutionary perspective and multi-layered brain;
- the three basic emotion regulation systems and the value of training our soothing system; expanding the stress theory with the psychological equivalents of fight, flight, freeze and their antidotes self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness of suffering;
- tend and befriend; cultivating a compassionate mind and an inner helper rather than an inner bully; overidentifying and disidentifying; Four Friends for Life: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
- Exercises include: soothing breathing rhythm, compassionate imagery (safe place, compassionate companion, embodying compassion); dealing compassionately with resistance, desire and maladaptive patterns; loving kindness towards ourselves and others;
- compassionate breathing;
- a compassionate bodyscan;
- walking and moving with kindness; compassionate letter writing; practising sympathetic joy, gratitude, forgiveness and equanimity; informal practices in daily life.
During this course, relevant scientific insights underpinning compassion training will be interwoven in the teaching.
- Participants are expected to be familiar with basic mindfulness practice, preferably by having followed an eight-week mindfulness training (MBSR, MBCT or equivalent).
- Participants can be psychologists, psychotherapists, doctors, social workers, counselors and teachers and are expected to have a professional interest in the applications of (self-) compassion.
- Participants are expected to be responsible for themselves and willing to deepen their self-inquiry by engaging in experiential exercises, share experiences and engage in mindful dialogue with the teachers and each other; all in an unforced way.
- The course is offered in English, Dutch or German. It is not suitable for participants without mindfulness meditation experience.
- Participants will have experienced the main exercises of the MBCL program as a first step to understand their meaning for their personal and professional lives.
- Participants will have a basic understanding of the content, the main themes and scientific background of the MBCL program.
- Participants will have a basis to further cultivate and deepen (self-) compassion practice for personal and professional benefit and continue with MBCL Teacher Training seminars, if they wish so.
MBCL Teacher Training
Teacher training seminars are increasingly offered across Europe, either in 2 modules of 3 days or in one residential retreat of 6 days. Completion of the Foundation Course is a requirement for participating in a teacher training curriculum. To become MBCL teacher one should be a certified mindfulness (MBSR or MBCT or equivalent) teacher. However, many professionals who are not mindfulness teachers can benefit from the seminars to deepen mindfulness-based and compassion focused interventions and enhance their therapeutic skills in individual or group work.
Erik van den Brink is psychiatrist, psychotherapist, mindfulness and compassion trainer. He studied medicine in Amsterdam and trained and worked in psychiatry in the UK. From his return to the Netherlands in 1995 until 2015 he worked in the mental health services of Groningen. There he initially led crisis intervention teams, offering ambulant alternatives to hospital admission, followed by an out-patient service for patients with mood disorders. Since its founding in 2007, he was involved with the Center for Integrative Psychiatry, an innovative mental health clinic integrating complementary methods in mainstream psychiatric care. He currently works from his own practice, as well as at a psycho-oncological center offering psychological help to patients with cancer and their families, and a Mindfulness Collective of experienced MBSR/MBCT teachers. He is particularly interested in methods that empower people’s self-healing capacity. He has a long standing personal meditation practice and was trained by founding teachers in MBSR/MBCT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Compassion Focused Therapy, Mindful Self-Compassion and Interpersonal Mindfulness (Insight Dialogue). He is a frequently asked guest teacher at training institutes across Europe. He closely collaborates with meditation teacher and mindfulness trainer Frits Koster (www.compassionateliving.info) as an author, teacher and trainer.
Erik van den Brink & Frits Koster (2015): Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living – A new training programme to deepen mindfulness with heartfulness. London/New York: Routledge.