In many countries, two types of compassion training are being offered: Mindfulness-based Compassionate Living (MBCL) and Mindful Self Compassion (MSC). Both programmes consist of eight sessions and an extra session in silence and intend to cultivate compassion.
MBCL has been developed from the close cooperation of two pioneering mindfulness teachers in the Netherlands (psychiatrist and psychotherapist Erik van den Brink and meditation teacher Frits Koster) based on their extensive experience in working with MBSR and MBCT in mental health care. In their programme, they have integrated elements derived from the developers of MSC as well as Gilbert’s Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), building on an evolutionary model of the human mind.
MSC has been developed by Kristin Neff, who is a pioneering researcher of self-compassion, and clinical psychologist Christopher Germer, who is an expert in the field of meditation and psychotherapy.
What they have in common
- MBCL and MSC draw from many similar sources and present compassion training in a secular, non-religious way. Based on transdiagnostic views on human suffering and universal models of the human mind, they can both be applied in various settings (preventive, primary and secondary healthcare; coaching; counselling; education; human resource; management).
- Both MBCL and MSC present exercises that have an evidence-base and incorporate new neuroscientific and clinical findings.
- Both programmes offer exercises that are helpful in dealing with stress and (emotional) pain in healthier ways. Both programmes seek to cultivate wholesome mental states, integrating insights from modern psychology and ancient contemplative practice in kindness and compassion (such as metta and tonglen).
- Both programmes give ample space to help participants: deal with adverse reactions to self-compassion; cope with painful emotions and self-criticism; accept their imperfections; and develop a kind, caring and forgiving attitude toward ourselves.
- They both seek to develop the four boundless qualities of heart (kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity).
How they differ
- MBCL is designed as a follow-up programme and participants are required to have followed a basic mindfulness course, preferably MBSR or MBCT on which it specifically builds, or Breathworks, MBRP or equivalent programme. It deepens already established mindfulness skills and expands the practice with compassion-focused exercises. Hence, it is required that teachers of the MBCL curriculum are already experienced and certified in teaching MBSR or MBCT and follow a similar style in teaching and guiding and in exploring the experiences of participants. In MBCL, teachers expand their teaching from the basis of MBSR/MBCT. MSC, on the other hand, is intended as a stand-alone programme and has integrated basic mindfulness exercises in its curriculum. It does not require participants to have followed a mindfulness-based programme first. MSC teachers have followed a stand-alone teacher training programme and being a MBSR/MBCT teacher is not a prerequisite. However, they are required to have an established and ongoing personal meditation practice.
- In MBCL, developing self-compassion and compassion to others are viewed as inseparable and ample space is given to both. In MSC the focus is more explicitly on developing self-compassion. Practices in kindness/compassion towards others are also offered in MSC, however, as a vehicle to self-compassion.
- There are also some smaller differences regarding specific exercises and themes that are explored.
Which one to choose?
Both trainings highlight the value of mindfulness practice. MSC states that familiarity with the practice of mindfulness is recommended, whereas MBCL considers it as a requirement. Developers of both programmes emphasise that personality, style and embodiment of the teacher are often more important than the curriculum offered.
Both training programmes are, like other compassion training programmes, valuable in their own right and it is most important that people explore for themselves what suits their needs best.