Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Self-Compassion among College Counseling Center Clients: An Examination of Clinical Norms and Group Differences

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Self-Compassion among College Counseling Center Clients: An Examination of Clinical Norms and Group Differences

Article excerpt

There has been growing interest in the mental health benefits of self-compassion.This study was designed to establish norms on the Self-Compassion Scale-Short Form, a popular measure of self-compassion for individuals seeking counseling, and to examine group differences in self-compassion based on gender, race/ ethnicity, sexual orientation, previous counseling, and psychiatric medication use. Data for this study were collected through the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, a practice-research network of more than 240 college and university counseling centers.

Keywords: self-compassion, clinical norms, college counseling


The last decade has seen growing interest in the mental health benefits of self-compassion, a form of self-to-self relating that involves treating oneself with the same kindness, understanding, and support that one would give to a good friend (Neff, 2011). Self-compassion responds to personal experiences of suffering with care and concern, including experiences of perceived inadequacy, failure, and painful life situations. Neff (2003a) defined self-compassion as being composed of three interacting components: self-kindness versus self-judgment, a sense of common humanity versus isolation, and mindfulness versus overidentification when confronting painful, self-relevant thoughts and emotions. These components combine and mutually interact to create a self-compassionate frame of mind.

Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Instead of taking a brusque or cold approach in times of suffering, self-kindness offers soothing and comfort to the self. Common humanity' involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail, and make mistakes. It connects one's own flawed condition to the shared human condition so that greater perspective is taken toward personal shortcomings and difficulties. Mindfulness, the third component of self-compassion, involves being aware of one's present moment experience in a clear and balanced manner rather than exaggerating or overidentifying with the negative aspects of oneself or one's life. Compassion can be extended toward the self when suffering occurs through no fault of one's own--when the external circumstances of life are simply difficult to bear. Self-compassion is equally relevant, however, when suffering stems from one's own mistakes, failures, or inadequacies.

Self-compassion has received increased research attention lately, with more than 200 journal articles and dissertations examining the topic since 2003, when the first two articles defining and measuring self-compassion were published (Neff, 2003a, 2003b). One of the most consistent findings in the research literature is that self-compassion is inversely related to psychopathology (Barnard & Curry, 2011). In fact, a recent meta-analysis (MacBeth & Gumley, 2012) found large effect sizes between self-compassion and depression (r = -.52), anxiety (r = -.51), and stress (r = -.54) across 20 studies. Of course, a key feature of self-compassion is the lack of self-criticism, and self-criticism is known to be an important predictor of anxiety and depression (Blatt, 1995). However, self-compassion still offers protection against anxiety and depression when controlling for self-criticism and negative affect (Neff, Kirkpatrick, & Rude, 2007).

Self-compassion appears to facilitate resilience by moderating people's reactions to negative events. In a series of studies, for instance, Leary, Tate, Adams, Allen, and Hancock (2007) asked undergraduates to recall unpleasant events, imagine hypothetical situations about failure and humiliation, or perform an embarrassing task. Results indicated that individuals who were higher in self-compassion demonstrated less extreme reactions, less negative emotions, more accepting thoughts, and a greater tendency to put their problems into perspective while at the same time acknowledging their own responsibility. …

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