Integrating Self-Compassion in Therapy: Promoting Resilience and Mental Well-Being

Self-compassion is a powerful practice for enhancing psychological well-being. When people learn to give themselves compassion, it allows them to cope with life’s painful experiences without becoming derailed by it. It also helps people to improve their relationship with themselves by fostering a kinder internal monologue. Here, we offer a panoramic view of the benefits of self-compassion and consider how this practice can be integrated into therapeutic interventions.

Understanding Self-Compassion:

Self-compassion is comprised of three core components: mindfulness, kindness, and common humanity.


Mindfulness: To show ourselves compassion, we need to be mindful of our pain along with the thoughts we have when we make a mistake or go through a challenging life experience. Mindfulness helps us recognize our thoughts and feelings as transient, enabling compassionate self-reflection. This helps with negative self-talk as well as rumination.

self care

Kindness: Most people are compassionate towards friends and loved ones when they make mistakes or suffer a misfortune. However, we tend to be much harder on ourselves, often saying things we would never say to a friend. The practice of self-compassion asks us to acknowledge our shortcomings while accepting ourselves as flawed, imperfect human beings. The kindness that characterizes self-compassion helps us emotionally by saying, “This is really hard right now. How can I care for myself in this moment?” This response aids in coping with the difficulty, as well as making wiser decisions with regard to care for self.


Common Humanity: Self-compassion helps us feel connected to others rather than isolated. When we fail or feel inadequate, we often irrationally believe that everyone else is fine and only we are struggling. This sense of isolation exacerbates our suffering. Self-compassion recognizes that struggle is part of being human, an experience we all share, promoting a sense of connection and mutuality in suffering.

Research demonstrates self-compassion’s potential to alleviate suffering across various clinical disorders, including depression, social anxiety, eating disorders, and personality disorders. A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis illuminated the potential benefits of self-compassion-related therapies in clinical practice. This comprehensive review evaluated the impact of therapies such as Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) on enhancing self-compassion and reducing psychopathology in both clinical and subclinical populations. The analysis encompassed 22 randomized controlled trials with data from up to 1,172 individuals, focusing on improvements in self-compassion, anxiety, and depressive symptoms measured through standardized change score differences between intervention and control groups.

Key Findings:

  1. Self-Compassion: Self-compassion-related therapies led to significant improvements in self-compassion, with an effect size (g) of 0.52 (95% CI [0.32, 0.71]).
  2. Anxiety: Participants experienced reduced anxiety levels, with an effect size of 0.46 (95% CI [0.25, 0.66]).
  3. Depressive Symptoms: There was also a notable decrease in depressive symptoms, with an effect size of 0.40 (95% CI [0.23, 0.57]).

However, when comparing these therapies to active control conditions, the differences in change scores for self-compassion, anxiety, and depressive symptoms were not statistically significant. This suggests that while self-compassion therapies are effective, their benefits may not exceed those of other therapeutic interventions. This finding suggests that while self-compassion therapies are beneficial, their advantages might be similar to those provided by other therapeutic methods.

Therapists can teach clients to respond to their difficulties compassionately. For example, if a client feels sad after an argument, the therapist might ask, “What do you need right now?” or “What would you say to a friend in your situation?” These questions help clients practice self-compassion, which they can continue outside of therapy. Programs like the Mindful Self-Compassion training, Compassionate Mind Training, and Compassion-Focused Therapy offer practical tools and exercises for building self-compassion.

When introducing self-compassion to clients it can be useful to address common misperceptions about self-compassion. Each of these myths are outline below.

Self-Compassion vs. Self-Pity
Misperception: Many people fear that self-compassion is just a form of self-pity
Self-compassion is the antidote to self-pity. While self-pity says "poor me," self-compassion recognizes that life is hard for everyone. Research shows that self-compassionate people are more likely to engage in perspective-taking and are less likely to ruminate on their own distress, leading to better mental health. By embracing common humanity and mindfulness, self-compassion helps individuals avoid exaggerating their struggles.
Self-Compassion vs. Weakness:
Misperception: There is a fear that self-compassion makes us weak and vulnerable.
Self-compassion is a reliable source of inner strength, conferring courage and resilience in the face of difficulties. Research shows that self-compassionate individuals cope better with tough situations like divorce, trauma, and chronic pain.
Self-Compassion vs. Selfishness:
Misperception: Some worry that being self-compassionate will make them self-centered.
Giving compassion to ourselves enables us to give more to others. Research indicates that self-compassionate people are more caring and supportive in relationships, more likely to compromise in conflicts, and more compassionate and forgiving towards others.
Self-Compassion vs. Self-Indulgence:
Misperception: Many fear that self-compassion equates to self-indulgence.
Self-compassion actually promotes long-term health and well-being rather than short-term pleasure. Research shows that self-compassionate individuals engage in healthier behaviors like regular exercise, balanced eating, moderate drinking, and timely medical check-ups.
Self-Compassion vs. Excuses:
Misperception: There is a concern that self-compassion is an excuse for bad behavior or mistakes.
Self-compassion provides the safety needed to admit mistakes and take responsibility. Research shows that self-compassionate people are more likely to apologize and take personal responsibility for their actions.
Self-Compassion vs. Achievement:
Misperception: The most common concern is that self-compassion undermines motivation to achieve.
Self-criticism often undermines self-confidence and increases fear of failure. Self-compassion, on the other hand, fosters motivation by encouraging individuals to reach their full potential out of care for themselves. Research indicates that self-compassionate people maintain high personal standards and are more resilient in the face of failure.

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, some clients may initially have negative reactions to self-compassion, known as “backdraft.” This can include thoughts of being unlovable, emotions like grief or shame, physical discomfort, and behaviors such as withdrawal or aggression. Backdraft is a natural part of the healing process, as compassion activates old memories for reprocessing. Therapists must proceed slowly to ensure clients are not overwhelmed, especially if traumatic memories are involved. As self-compassion grows, clients develop the safety needed to explore their inner and outer worlds.

Self-compassion is beneficial not only for our clients but also for clinicians themselves. The empathic distress therapists experience from listening to others’ painful experiences can lead to burnout. Self-compassion reduces burnout by helping therapists manage their empathic pain more effectively, which in turn benefits clients through improved emotional attunement. Over time, exposure to a therapist who practices self-compassion can positively influence how clients perceive and treat themselves, ultimately enhancing clinicians’ effectiveness.

Self-compassion is an effective therapeutic tool for alleviating human suffering, benefiting both patients and therapists. Integrating self-compassion into therapeutic practices can lead to profound improvements in mental health and well-being, promoting resilience and a deeper sense of connection and care for oneself and others. However, it’s essential to consider self-compassion practices as part of a broader therapeutic toolkit rather than a standalone solution. Introducing self-compassion-based therapies at appropriate stages of treatment and addressing common misperceptions can help clients embrace these practices, leading to better mental health and overall well-being. Staying abreast of such research ensures that we continue to provide the most effective and evidence-based care for our clients, promoting holistic well-being and resilience.


Crego, A., Yela, J. R., Riesco-Matías, P., Gómez-Martínez, M. Á., & Vicente-Arruebarrena, A. (2022). The Benefits of Self-Compassion in Mental Health Professionals: A Systematic Review of Empirical Research. Psychology research and behavior management15, 2599–2620.

Neff, K. (2015). The Five Myths of Self-Compassion. Greater Good Magazine: Science-based Insights for a Meaningful Life. Retrieved from

Neff, K., & Germer, C. (2022). The role of self-compassion in psychotherapy. World psychiatry: official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA)21(1), 58–59.

Wilson, A.C., Mackintosh, K., Power, K., et al. (2019). Effectiveness of Self-Compassion Related Therapies: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 10, 979–995.

Blog Post Tags:

Related Blog Posts

Building Brighter Futures: The Impact of Positive Childhood Experiences on Child and Adolescent Mental Health

Addressing and Reducing Barriers to Mental Health Treatment for Racial and Ethnic Minorities

Harnessing Resources: A Guide for Behavioral Health Practitioners During Alcohol Awareness Month

Embracing Wholeness: Integrating Somatic Therapy into Traditional Psychotherapy

Related Learning Labs


Healthy Aging

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Enhancing Outcomes for Reluctant Clients with Challenging Issues

Related Resources

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.