A key focus of compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is the facilitation of “felt” change on a bodily level for individuals with high levels of shame and self-criticism. However, while evidence suggests that CFT is effective in reducing psychological distress, research has yet to examine the extent to which CFT facilitates bodily change. The aim of this study was to investigate subjective bodily changes associated with attending a trans-diagnostic CFT group within a mental health service.
A qualitatively weighted mixed-method design was employed, combining phenomenological and observational elements. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with eleven participants following the group and analyzed thematically. Pre-post self-report data was gathered (N = 23) using the Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness (MAIA) to further examine subjective body-related change.
Results were integrated using the concept of mind-body attunement. Participants’ reported experiences of distress prior to CFT were seen to reflect difficulties with attunement between mind and body. Following CFT, participants’ sense of being attuned to their bodies appeared to increase. This change appeared to be associated with the cultivation of a more self-compassionate mindset; engaging in a regular, compassion-focused meditative or reflective practice, and experiencing shared compassion.
Results suggest that CFT may be helpful for individuals whose psychological distress is at least partly associated with disruption in mind-body attunement. A model outlining the relationship between compassion, mind-body attunement, and positive life outcomes is proposed.