Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Self-Compassion is a Better Predictor Than Mindfulness of Symptom Severity and Quality of Life in Mixed Anxiety and Depression

Way back in June, I wrote about some data Dr. John Forsyth had collected about his self-help book, The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety. Dr. Forsyth's lab is still collecting data for the second part of the study; in the meantime, they've used some of it to look at the relationship between mindfulness and self-compassion to anxiety and depression. Self-compassion, which SM has posted about before, was developed by Dr. Kristin Neff and is based on Buddhist notions of compassion. The three components of self-compassion are mindfulness, kindness to one's self (as opposed to self-judgment), and feeling part of a common humanity (as opposed to isolation).

Dr. Forsyth's lab analyzed some of the data they've been collecting from 504 people to look at what processes may be most important to anxiety and depression. They used Dr. Neff's Self-Compassion Scale (SCS; Neff, 2003) and--for their measure of mindfulness--the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS; Brown & Ryan, 2003). The articles uses some very precise statistical terms that I'll try to translate for a more general audience, but please bear in mind that my descriptions below lose some of the nuance of the original.

Interestingly, self-compassion was a much better measure than mindfulness in accounting for problems with anxiety, depression, and overall quality of life. The SCS has several subscales: the most important one for anxiety and depression was the self-judgment subscale. Greater self-judgment showed a comparatively larger relationship with greater anxiety and depression. What this means is that the SCS appears to be a better than the MAAS in measuring treatment outcomes for people with anxiety and depression. It also suggests that awareness of thoughts and emotions may be less important than how one relates to them. What this means is that self-compassion may be a particularly important component in mindfulness-based treatments, and that it is a useful predictor of psychological health.

A caveat to these findings is that the MAAS is only one of several mindfulness measures. Some of the other mindfulness measures such as the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills (KIMS) and the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) measure 4-5 aspects of mindfulness whereas the MAAS measures one. What is does suggest, though, is that self-compassion, as it is measured by the SCS, may be an extremely important construct in measuring treatment outcome for mindfulness-based therapies. This study contributes to a growing body of literature suggesting the importance of self-compassion as a construct.

To download a copy of the article, click on the full citation below:

Van Dam, N.T., Sheppard, S.C., Forsyth, J.P., & Earlywine, M. (2011). Self-Compassion is a Better Predictor Than Mindfulness of Symptom Severity and Quality of Life in Mixed Anxiety and Depression. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 25, 123-130.


  1. What is the surest predictor of increased compassion over time? Might it be mindfulness? The study's speculation that compassion - as training? - might be a particularly important part of MBI's seems premature.

  2. Hi Jeff,

    Good point. I think the authors are speaking of self-compassion more as a process than something explicitly trained. In that respect, mindfulness may increase self-compassion regardless of whether it's explicitly targeted. We'll see, though; as this study is cross sectional, it's hard to draw really firm conclusions about self-compassion.


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