Can coaching unite self-compassion, empathy, and mindfulness?

In the bottom center of the photograph is a long, winding wooden sidewalk leading up towards the center of the picture. To the left and right of the sidewalk are areas of dry brush. And in the background of the photograph on all sides is a forest full of tall trees. There is a mountain distant in the back. And above that is a cloudy blue sky.


In their article, Exploring Self-compassion and Empathy in the Context of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Kathryn Birnie et al., navigate the possibility of utilizing MBSR as an intervention for increasing self-compassion and empathy. With a sample of 51 participants, the researchers implemented a 2 month long MBSR program and analyzed the effects on an individual’s self-compassion and empathy scales. From the findings of the study, the researchers gathered evidence that MBSR reduces stress and mood disturbances, while increasing mindfulness, spirituality, and self-compassion. 

Within this article, the definition of mindfulness utilized focused on paying attention to one’s emotions, non-judgement, trust, non-striving, and acceptance. 

The definition for self-compassion included extending kindness and understanding to oneself, viewing one’s experiences as part of humanity as a whole, and holding painful thoughts and feelings in a balanced awareness. The main difference between mindfulness and self-compassion noted by the researchers lies in self-compassion’s emphasis on self-care and action, whereas a mindfulness-based approach involves general awareness rather than action.  In addition to self-compassion, the researchers also wanted to explore the effect of mindfulness on empathy. Empathy within this study is broadly defined as the ability to take another’s perspective and experience. 

With the following theoretical underpinnings explained, the following hypotheses are examined within this study:

  1. Enhance understanding of the impact of MBSR on levels of self-compassion and empathy in a community sample
  2. Explore the relationship between self-compassion and empathy and amongst self-compassion, empathy and other key variables shown to be influenced by MBSR including mindfulness, stress, mood disturbance and spirituality

Overall, participation in the MBSR program was beneficial for participants. Participants exhibited increased self-compassion, perspective taking, spirituality and mindfulness, on self-reported measures, in addition to decreased personal distress, mood disturbance and symptoms of stress. The one area that received no significant change was empathic concern, which was measured with the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). 

This study shows how MBSR as an intervention method can enhance self-compassion, along with preventing stress. It is important to note the limitations of this study, as there was not a control group for the MBSR treatment, and a large number of participants’ data was not collected as individuals failed to complete the MBSR program or complete all of the assessments. 

For coaches, mindfulness can be viewed as a buzzword within the space of psychology. However, it is important to realize the practical implications of mindfulness-based practice, which includes stress reduction and an increase in self-compassion.

In the center of the frame in bold red letters, the quote by Jon Kabat-Zinn “It is what makes us human, what distinguishes us from other animals. We can be aware of being aware.” This quote is accompanied by the Institute of Coaching’s Logo, a red shield. The shield is in the lower center of the image.

IOC's Tips of the Week are authored by Austin Matzelle