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Mechanisms of Change in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Self-Compassion and Mindfulness as Mediators of Intervention Outcomes



Research has demonstrated support for the efficacy of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in alleviating psychological distress and symptoms. Less is known, however, about the mechanisms through which MBSR achieves its outcomes. This study examined mindfulness and self-compassion as potential mediators of MBSR's effects on several processes and behaviors related to emotion regulation, using data from a randomized trial of MBSR versus waitlist (WL), in which MBSR participants demonstrated significantly greater improvements in worry, fear of emotion, difficulties in emotion regulation, suppression of anger, and aggressive anger expression. Mediation analysis using bootstrap resampling indicated that increases in self-compassion mediated MBSR's effects on worry, controlling for change in mindfulness. Increases in mindfulness mediated the intervention's effects on difficulties in emotion regulation, controlling for change in self-compassion. Both variables mediated MBSR's effects on fear of emotion. These findings highlight the importance of mindfulness and self-compassion as key processes of change that underlie MBSR's outcomes.
Evidence-Based Mentoring
Jennifer Block-Lerner, PhD
With the Compliments of Springer Publishing Company, LLC
Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly
Volume 26, Number 3 • 2012
© 2012 Springer Publishing Company
Mechanisms of Change in
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction:
Self-Compassion and Mindfulness as
Mediators of Intervention Outcomes
Shian-Ling Keng, MA
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Moria J. Smoski, PhD
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina
Clive J. Robins, PhD
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina
Andrew G. Ekblad, PhD
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Jeffrey G. Brantley, MD
Duke Integrative Medicine, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina
Research has demonstrated support for the efficacy of mindfulness-based stress reduction
(MBSR) in alleviating psychological distress and symptoms. Less is known, however, about
the mechanisms through which MBSR achieves its outcomes. This study examined mindful-
ness and self-compassion as potential mediators of MBSR’s effects on several processes and
behaviors related to emotion regulation, using data from a randomized trial of MBSR versus
waitlist (WL), in which MBSR participants demonstrated significantly greater improvements
in worry, fear of emotion, difficulties in emotion regulation, suppression of anger, and aggres-
sive anger expression. Mediation analysis using bootstrap resampling indicated that increases
in self-compassion mediated MBSR’s effects on worry, controlling for change in mindfulness.
Increases in mindfulness mediated the intervention’s effects on difficulties in emotion regula-
tion, controlling for change in self-compassion. Both variables mediated MBSR’s effects on fear
of emotion. These findings highlight the importance of mindfulness and self-compassion as
key processes of change that underlie MBSR’s outcomes.
Keywords: mindfulness; self-compassion; mechanisms of change; mindfulness-based stress reduction
In recent years, mindfulness-based interventions have gained increasing popularity in both
clinical and research settings. These interventions all share common emphasis on cultivating
mindfulness, a form of awareness that arises through “paying attention in a particular way: on
Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly
© 2012 Springer Publishing Company
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
271Mechanisms of Change in MBSR
purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p. 4). Another con-
struct that has been proposed to be an important process and outcome in mindfulness-based
interventions (Shapiro, Astin, Bishop, & Cordova, 2005) is self-compassion, which has been
defined as
being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness
toward oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies
and failures, and recognizing that one’s own experience is part of the common human
experience. (Neff, 2003, p. 24)
Although there is conceptual overlap between mindfulness and self-compassion, most re-
search on their psychological correlates and effects has been conducted independently, and little
work has attempted to tease apart their independent contribution to psychological well-being
or to the effects of mindfulness-based clinical interventions. The goal of this research was to
examine the independent roles of mindfulness and self-compassion in mediating the effects of
mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
MBSR is a group-based psychosocial intervention in which participants are taught principles
of mindfulness and various techniques and exercises aimed at cultivating mindfulness in daily life.
To date, much research has examined MBSR’s effects, and found the intervention to have a wide
range of beneficial psychological and physical outcomes among psychiatric, medical, and non-
clinical populations. Its effects are multidimensional, ranging from reduced depressive symptoms
(Anderson, Lau, Segal, & Bishop, 2007; Sephton et al., 2007; Shapiro, Schwartz, & Bonner, 1998),
anxiety (Shapiro et al., 1998), and medical symptoms (Williams, Kolar, Reger, & Pearson, 2001),
to increased empathy (Shapiro et al., 1998), positive affect (Bränström, Kvillemo, Brandberg, &
Moskowitz, 2010; Jain et al., 2007; Nyklícek & Kuijpers, 2008), sense of spirituality (Astin, 1997;
Shapiro et al., 1998), and quality of life (Koszycki, Benger, Shlik, & Bradwejn, 2007). For a review
of the effects of MBSR on psychological health, see Keng, Smoski, and Robins (2011). Results
of a meta-analysis indicated a moderate effect size of d ,0.50 for the intervention’s effects on
general physical and psychological well-being (Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004).
Whereas many studies have demonstrated MBSR’s positive effects on psychological symptoms
and well-being, few studies have investigated the effects of MBSR on clinically relevant psycholog-
ical processes, particularly processes relevant to emotional experience, regulation, and expression.
MBSR may reduce individuals’ tendency to engage in maladaptive cognitive and emotional ten-
dencies, such as worry and fear of emotion, by enhancing the ability to decenter from sensations,
thoughts, and emotions. MBSR may also improve individuals’ ability to regulate emotions and
express emotions in more adaptive ways. Our recently completed randomized trial of MBSR, on
which this study is based, demonstrated that MBSR leads to significant improvements in worry,
fear of emotion, difficulties in emotion regulation, aggressive anger expression, and suppression
of anger (Robins, Keng, Ekblad, & Brantley, 2012).
Although the efficacy of MBSR is relatively well established, less is known regarding the
mechanisms through which MBSR achieves its psychological effects. Of a number of processes
proposed to be potential mechanisms of effects of MBSR, increases in mindfulness have been
noted as a potentially crucial mechanism of change. Research has found that MBSR leads to
increased self-reported mindfulness (Anderson et al., 2007; Bränström et al., 2010; Campbell,
Labelle, Bacon, Faris, & Carlson, 2012; Carmody, Reed, Kristeller, & Merriam, 2008; Dobkin &
Zhao, 2011; Garland, Gaylord, & Fredrickson, 2011; Gaylord et al., 2011; Gayner et al., 2012;
Hölzel et al., 2011; Jensen, Vangkilde, Frokjaer, & Hasselbach, 2012; Kilpatrick et al., 2011;
Kimbrough, Magyari, Langenberg, Chesney, & Berman, 2010; Lau et al., 2006; Robins et al.,
2012; Schmidt et al., 2011; Shapiro, Brown, & Biegel, 2007; Shapiro, Oman, Thoresen, Plante, &
Flinders, 2008; Vøllestad, Sivertsen, & Nielsen, 2011), and that intervention-related increases in
mindfulness predicted increases in positive states of mind, self-compassion, and spirituality, and
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
272 Keng et al.
decreases in perceived stress, psychological distress, depression, anxiety, rumination, and worry
(Anderson et al., 2007; Bränström et al., 2010; Campbell et al., 2012; Carmody et al., 2008; Dobkin
& Zhao, 2011; Garland et al., 2011; Gayner et al., 2012; Gross et al., 2010; Hölzel et al., 2011; Jensen
et al., 2012; Lau et al., 2006; Shapiro et al., 2007; Vøllestad et al., 2011). Other studies have shown
that increases in mindfulness statistically mediated the effects of mindfulness interventions on
outcomes including reductions in rumination, anxiety, perceived stress, avoidance behavior,
and cognitive reactivity (Bränström et al., 2010; Nyklícek & Kuijpers, 2008; Raes, Dewulf, Van
Heeringen, & Williams, 2009; Shapiro et al., 2008; Vøllestad et al., 2011), and increases in positive
states of mind and quality of life (Bränström et al., 2010; Nyklícek & Kuijpers, 2008). In addi-
tion, changes in self-reported mindfulness have been found to partially mediate the relationship
between the amount of time spent in formal mindfulness homework practice during the MBSR
program and changes in perceived stress, psychological symptoms, and psychological well-being
(Carmody & Baer, 2008).
Although these studies point to mindfulness as a mediator of mindfulness-based interven-
tions’ effects, none have taken into account other potential constructs that may mediate the effects
of mindfulness-based interventions. One construct that has been identified as a potentially im-
portant process and outcome of mindfulness-based interventions is self-compassion, which has
been associated with positive psychological outcomes, including lower depression and anxiety,
and increased satisfaction with life (Neff, 2003). Like mindfulness, self-compassion is a concept
prominent in Buddhist psychology, and it involves adopting a caring and compassionate attitude
toward oneself, recognizing one’s experience as part of the larger human experience, and bringing
nonjudgmental awareness to one’s painful thoughts and experiences rather than overidentify-
ing with them. There is some conceptual overlap between the constructs of mindfulness and
self-compassion, in that both involve an attitude of nonjudgment toward one’s experiences. It is
thus perhaps unsurprising that research has found that MBSR led to significant increases in self-
compassion, and that increases in self-compassion predicted decreases in perceived stress result-
ing from the intervention (Shapiro et al., 2005).
To date, there has been some preliminary work examining the relative role of mindful-
ness and self-compassion in psychological well-being. In a cross-sectional, correlational study
by Van Dam, Sheppard, Forsyth, and Earleywine (2011), self-compassion was found to be a
stronger correlate of symptom severity and quality of life of individuals with mixed anxiety
and depression than mindfulness. In a randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based
cognitive therapy (MBCT), an adaptation of MBSR was developed for recurrently depressed
patients; the effects of MBCT on depressive symptoms were found to be mediated by changes
in both mindfulness and self-compassion (Kuyken et al., 2010). One limitation of this study
is that changes in mindfulness and self-compassion were each included as a mediator in sepa-
rate analyses, which does not control for possible shared variance between the two constructs.
This study’s sample consisted of patients with a history of recurrent depression, and it is un-
known the extent to which the findings are generalizable to other populations, for example, a
nonclinical population. This study is a preliminary attempt at addressing the present knowl-
edge gap regarding the relative role of mindfulness and self-compassion in MBSR’s treatment
outcome by examining the extent to which each construct independently mediates the effects
of MBSR on several psychological health-related outcomes, including maladaptive cognitive
and overt behaviors, using data from a randomized, waitlisted controlled trial conducted by
our group (Robins et al., 2012). This study also aims to broaden the literature concerning
mechanisms of change of mindfulness-based interventions by assessing mindfulness using
a frequently used measure, the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ; Baer, Smith,
Hopkins, Krietemeyer, & Toney, 2006), and by investigating the mechanisms of MBSR in a
nonclinical sample. Given the exploratory nature of this work, we made no specific predictions
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
273Mechanisms of Change in MBSR
whether changes in mindfulness or self-compassion would more strongly mediate the effects
of MBSR on a particular outcome.
Me t h o d
Participants and Procedure
The sample, recruitment procedures, treatment conditions, and measures used in the current
analyses have been described in detail in Robins et al. (2012). We were interested in studying the
effects of MBSR in a nonclinical sample, similar to the population for whom the MBSR program
typically is provided. In brief, participants met the following study criteria: (a) aged at least
18 years, (b) no prior participation in an MBSR program, (c) no active psychotic symptoms or
suicidal ideation, (d) no psychiatric hospitalizations within the past 6 months, (e) able to attend
MBSR classes at designated times, (f) able to commit to daily home practice of mindfulness
exercises, and (g) no regular mindfulness meditation practice (or any other form of meditative
practice such as yoga or contemplative prayer) for more than an average of 20 min a week within
the past 6 months. The recruitment materials stated the duration and content of the program
(i.e., examples of types of mindfulness exercises taught) and procedures that participants would
go through if they enrolled in the study. Fifty-six individuals met the study criteria and were
randomly assigned to MBSR (n 5 28) or waitlist (WL) (n 5 28). Participants completed assess-
ments prior to the beginning of MBSR and immediately after the intervention group’s comple-
tion of MBSR (Time 2; 2 months after Time 1). Participants were paid $10 for completing each
assessment session, and the WL group was offered a course of MBSR after the MBSR group
completed their course. Twenty MBSR participants completed both the program, defined as
having attended at least five out of the eight regular class meetings, and the Time 2 (post-MBSR)
assessment, and 21 WL participants completed the Time 2 assessment. Participants’ mean age
was 46.25 years (SD 5 12.97; range 5 21–87). The sample was 84% female and 91% White.
Fifty-eight percent were married, living with a partner, or in an intimate relationship, and 51%
had a graduate degree.
In this study, mindfulness was measured using the FFMQ (Baer et al., 2006), which consists
of 39 items in five subscales: nonreactivity to inner experience, observing (noting or attending to
sensations/perceptions/thoughts/feelings), acting with awareness, describing (noting or labeling
experiences with words), and nonjudging of experiences. According to Baer et al. (2006), the
internal consistencies of the subscales range between .75 and .91. Self-compassion was assessed
using the Self-Compassion Scale (Neff, 2003), a 26-item questionnaire consisting of six subscales:
self-kindness, self-judgment, common humanity, isolation, mindfulness, and overidentification.
The scale’s internal consistency and test–retest reliability were .92 and .93, respectively (Neff,
2003). The Affective Control Scale provides a measure of fear of the experience of emotions and
fear of loss of control over internal and behavioral reactions to emotions (a 5 .94 and test–retest
r 5 .78; Williams, Chambless, & Ahrens, 1997). Worry was measured using the Penn State Worry
Questionnaire (Meyer, Miller, Metzger & Borkovec, 1990), a 16-item self-report inventory
designed to assess generality, excessiveness, and uncontrollability of pathological worry. Meyer et
al. (1990) reported that the questionnaire’s internal consistency and test–retest reliability were .93
and .92, respectively. The Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale was used as a measure of dif-
ficulties with emotion regulation (a 5 .93 and test–retest r 5 .88; Gratz & Roemer, 2004). Lastly,
the two subscales (anger-out and anger-in) of the Spielberger Anger Expression Scale (Spielberger
et al., 1985) provided a measure of expression of anger as aggressive behavior and suppression
of anger respectively. Internal reliabilities for each of the subscales were reported as .73 and .70,
respectively (Knight, Chisholm, Pauling, & Waal-Manning, 1988).
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
274 Keng et al.
Statistical Analyses
The mediation analyses were conducted using a bootstrap resampling procedure that allows
for the simultaneous examination of multiple mediators (Preacher & Hayes, 2008). This pro-
cedure is a multivariate extension of the Sobel test that does not assume normality of the sam-
pling distribution of the indirect effect (ab product), an assumption that is typically violated in
small study samples. The bootstrapping approach has been recommended over the Sobel test
or the traditional causal steps approach by several researchers, given that the former approach
has been demonstrated to have higher power with reasonably controlled Type I error rate
(MacKinnon, Lockwood, Hoffman, West, & Sheets, 2002; MacKinnon, Lockwood, & Williams,
2004). In this study, bootstrapping was accomplished by taking 3,000 random samples of the
original sample size and computing the ab product for each mediator in each sample. The
point estimate of the indirect effect is the mean of the ab product over 3,000 samples. The
procedure yields a 95% bias-corrected confidence interval. If the upper and lower limits of the
confidence interval do not contain zero, the indirect effect is significant. The procedure allows
for examination of the total indirect effect and the individual effect of a specified mediator,
over and above the effects of other mediators. In the current analyses, changes in mindfulness
and changes in self-compassion were entered as candidate mediators of MBSR’s effects on
changes in worry, fear of emotion, anger suppression, aggressive anger expression, and diffi-
culties in emotion regulation. The analyses were conducted using SPSS macros for mediation
analysis provided online at
Re s u l t s
At baseline, there were no significant group differences on any demographic or dependent vari-
ables, except that the MBSR group included a higher number of participants with some prior
meditation, yoga, or contemplative practice experience, 2 (1, N 5 41) 5 4.08, p 5 .04. This
variable was therefore included as a covariate in the mediation analyses.
Table 1 presents the means and standard deviations of the candidate mediators and depen-
dent variables for both groups at both time points. Robins et al. (2012) reported that MBSR
TABLE 1. Me a n s a n d st a n da R d deviat i o n s o f t h e Me d i a t o R s a n d ou t c o M e v a R i a b l e s a t bo t h
ti M e Po i n t s
Intervention (N 5 20) Waitlist (N 5 21)
Time 1 Time 2 Time 1 Time 2
Variable M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD)
Mindfulness 121.6 (20.31) 138.35 (13.27) 125.10 (22.13) 125.76 (21.99)
Self-compassion 49.20 (12.80) 60.95 (10.57) 51.19 (13.87) 51.81 (14.81)
Worry 58.14 (13.96) 45.50 (14.53) 51.14 (15.63) 48.33 (15.15)
Fear of emotion 129.31 (35.08) 105.60 (26.28) 121.73 (38.20) 115.48 (30.99)
Aggressive anger 12.45 (2.76) 11.55 (1.88) 15.33 (4.94) 15.71 (4.54)
Suppression of anger 18.15 (4.26) 14.80 (3.19) 17.52 (5.30) 17.43 (4.11)
Difficulties with 89.66 (22.72) 72.00 (12.93) 82.89 (25.21) 83.38 (19.27)
emotion regulation
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275Mechanisms of Change in MBSR
TABLE 2. bo o t s t R a P Re s a M P l i n g Po i n t es t i M at e s a n d 95 % co n f i d e n c e in t e R v a l s (ci) f o R t h e
to t a l in d i R e c t ef f e c t o f MbsR o n ea c h ou t c o M e va R i a b l e , t h e in d i v i d u a l in d i R e c t ef f e c t s
o f ea c h Me d i a t o R , a n d co n t R a s t s be t w e e n t h e Me d i a t o R s
Bootstrapping BCa 95% CI
Point Estimate SE Lower Upper
Worry M 22.09 2.97 28.96 2.83
SCa 6.89 3.29 1.57 15.27
Total indirect 4.80 2.89 2.44 10.97
M vs. SC 28.98 5.56 223.15 .10
Fear of emotion Ma 8.56 5.13 2.00 25.06
SCa 6.20 3.26 .59 13.67
Total indirecta 14.76 4.42 8.24 26.45
M vs. SC 2.36 7.37 28.68 21.56
Aggressive anger M 2.37 .62 21.52 1.01
expression SC 2.65 .61 22.27 .27
Total indirect 21.02 .77 22.96 .20
M vs. SC .27 .96 21.27 2.56
Suppression of anger M 2.63 .88 22.24 1.29
SC 1.26 .84 2.12 3.25
Total indirect .63 .88 21.19 2.32
M vs. SC 21.88 1.48 24.82 1.07
Difficulties in Ma 13.30 4.59 5.59 24.34
emotion regulation SC .72 2.03 22.97 5.36
Total indirecta 14.02 3.76 7.80 23.45
M vs. SCa 12.58 6.03 2.17 26.06
Notes. Confidence intervals that do not contain zero indicate that the point estimate is
statistically significant. M 5 mindfulness; SC 5 self-compassion; BCa 5 bias-corrected and
accelerated confidence intervals; SE 5 standard error.
aIndicates a significant effect.
participants showed significantly greater increases in trait mindfulness and self-compassion, and
significantly greater decreases in fear of emotions, suppression of anger, aggressive anger expres-
sion, worry, and difficulties regulating emotions. Self-compassion and mindfulness were corre-
lated r 5 .55, p , .001 at pretreatment and r 5 .60, p , .001 posttreatment. Changes in both
variables from pretreatment to posttreatment are correlated at r 5 .53, p , .001.
The bootstrap resampling procedure produced the point estimate of each indirect effect
and their associated 95% confidence intervals. These data are presented in Table 2. The anal-
yses indicated that increases in self-compassion independently (accounting for mindfulness)
mediated MBSR’s effects on worry. Increases in mindfulness independently mediated the
effects of MBSR on difficulties in emotion regulation. Finally, both variables were signifi-
cant mediators of MBSR’s effects on fear of emotion, even when controlling for each other.
Neither mindfulness nor self-compassion mediated the effects of MBSR on aggressive anger
expression or suppression of anger. Pairwise contrasts between the two mediators showed that
changes in mindfulness and self-compassion did not differ significantly in their mediating
effects on worry or fear of emotions, but the mediating effect of mindfulness was significantly
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
276 Keng et al.
greater than the mediating effect of self-compassion on difficulties in emotion regulation.
Given that mindfulness significantly mediated the effects of MBSR on fear of emotion and
difficulties in emotion regulation, we additionally examined whether the distinct facets of
mindfulness assessed by the FFMQ differentially mediated the effects of MBSR on these two
variables. Controlling for the effects of other facets of mindfulness, none of the mindfulness
facets uniquely mediated the effects of MBSR on fear of emotion and difficulties in emotion
di s c u s s i o n
This study aimed to examine the relative contribution of changes in mindfulness and self-
compassion as mediators of the effects of MBSR on maladaptive cognitive and behavioral tenden-
cies, including worry, fear of emotion, aggressive anger expression and suppression of anger, and
difficulties in emotion regulation. Results indicated that changes in mindfulness independently
mediated the effects of MBSR on difficulties in emotion regulation, controlling for changes in
self-compassion, whereas changes in self-compassion mediated the effects of the intervention on
worry, controlling for changes in mindfulness. Both variables mediated the effects of MBSR on
fear of emotion, and neither mediated MBSR’s effects on aggressive anger expression nor sup-
pression of anger. Controlling for changes in other facets of mindfulness, none of the individual
facets of mindfulness assessed via the FFMQ uniquely mediated MBSR’s effects on difficulties in
emotion regulation and fear of emotion. These findings are consistent with previous intervention
studies that indicate that changes in self-compassion and/or mindfulness each mediated some
aspects of outcome of mindfulness-based interventions, including perceived stress (Bränström et
al., 2010; Nyklícek & Kuijpers, 2008; Shapiro et al., 2005; Shapiro et al., 2008), depressive symp-
toms (Kuyken et al., 2010), and quality of life (Nyklícek & Kuijpers, 2008), with the added advan-
tage of a direct comparison of the relative contribution of each of these two constructs controlling
for the other construct.
This study’s findings highlight the importance of changes in both self-compassion and
mindfulness as mediators of the effects of the intervention, and suggest that there are unique pro-
cesses in MBSR that are responsible for specific outcomes. Changes in self-compassion, above and
beyond changes in mindfulness, mediated reductions in worry; a cognitive behavior that is a key
feature of anxiety disorders (Borkovec, Shadick, Hopkins, & Rapee, 1991). This finding is consis-
tent with a previous cross-sectional study’s finding that self-compassion, relative to mindfulness,
was more strongly related to anxious and depressive symptomatology of individuals with mixed
anxiety and depression (Van Dam et al., 2011). Changes in both self-compassion and mindfulness
significantly mediated the effects of MBSR on fear of emotion, suggesting that improvements in
both processes may help reduce avoidance and fear of emotion. The finding that self-compassion
mediated the effects of the intervention on both worry and fear of emotion is worth noting, given
that previously found effects of MBSR on outcomes related to maladaptive cognitive tendencies,
such as rumination (Shapiro et al., 2008), have been primarily linked to changes in mindfulness
rather than self-compassion. These findings suggest that enhancing focus on developing self-
compassion in MBSR, or other mindfulness-based interventions, may bring about direct ben-
efit in terms of reducing maladaptive cognitive coping tendencies and increasing willingness to
accept and experience emotions.
The finding that the effects of MBSR on difficulties in emotion regulation were mediated by
improvements in mindfulness, but not self-compassion (after controlling for changes in mind-
fulness), was surprising given that self-compassion has previously been positively correlated
with some aspects of emotional intelligence, including clarity of individuals’ experience of their
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277Mechanisms of Change in MBSR
emotions and individuals’ ability to regulate their mood states (Neff, 2003). This finding suggests
that in the context of MBSR, relative to self-compassion, improvements in mindfulness may play
a stronger role in reducing difficulties in emotion regulation. It is unclear why neither self-com-
passion nor mindfulness mediated the effects of MBSR on aggressive anger expression and sup-
pression of anger. We suspect that the effects of MBSR on these outcomes may be mediated by
processes that are unexamined in this study, such as interpersonal functioning and the ability to
regulate expression of emotions.
Although the study was designed to highlight the unique contributions of mindfulness and
self-compassion to the benefits of MBSR, it should be noted that the two constructs are not
unrelated, as we highlighted in the introduction section. In this study, self-compassion and mind-
fulness were correlated at preintervention and postintervention. We do not suggest that these
constructs operate fully independent of each other. In fact, we posit that mindfulness allows for
greater clarity in developing self-compassion, whereas self-compassion “clears the way” for mind-
fulness by reducing attention-interfering cognitions such as negative rumination. Future studies
can examine these hypotheses by incorporating additional assessment time points and testing a
path model in which changes in mindfulness lead to changes in self-compassion, or vice versa.
Even though mindfulness and self-compassion might work together to produce improvements,
this study shows that these constructs are in fact differentiable in their impact on clinical and
psychological outcomes, and thus may be emphasized to a greater or lesser degree in mindfulness-
based interventions.
This study’s strengths include an experimental design that involves randomized assignment
to treatment or a WL control group, inclusion of assessment of constructs that have not been
examined in previous MBSR trials (such as fear of emotion and difficulties in emotion regu-
lation), and use of data analytic strategies (bootstrap resampling) that are appropriate for the
sample size and purpose of the study. This study has several limitations. First, we analyzed only
data of completers because of the relatively small sample and lack of interim assessment points,
which precludes statistically rigorous approximation of missing data points. Future studies
should include a larger sample and interim assessment points and perform intent-to-treat anal-
yses of treatment effects. The lack of interim assessment points also precludes a strong conclusion
regarding mediation. Because changes in the proposed mediators and outcomes were calculated
from the same two time points, we cannot assess whether changes in the outcome were tempo-
rally preceded by changes in the mediators. Future studies that include multiple assessment time
points during the course of the intervention will permit stronger conclusions regarding media-
tion. Another limitation of this study is that the sample recruited was a self-selected sample that
was predominantly female, White, and highly educated, which limits generalizability of the find-
ings. Future studies should aim to recruit participants from more diverse ethnic, educational, and
socioeconomic backgrounds.
To the authors’ knowledge, this study is the first to assess the unique roles of mindfulness
and self-compassion as mediators of outcomes of MBSR by using a statistical model that enables
examination of one mediator’s effect while accounting for effects of other mediators. The find-
ings of this study illustrate the differential effects of both constructs in mediating MBSR’s out-
come, and underscore the importance of self-compassion as a mechanism of change for a range
of outcomes. Although the findings must be interpreted with caution given previously noted
limitations of the study, they point to the value of simultaneously investigating multiple key vari-
ables as mediators of effects of mindfulness-based interventions. Future studies should continue
to examine the mediating effects of mindfulness and self-compassion, as well as those of other
potential processes of change, in the interest of broadening our understanding of the mecha-
nisms of mindfulness-based interventions and eventually, refining and enhancing their treatment
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
278 Keng et al.
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Acknowledgments. We would like to thank Anita Lungu, Paul Geiger, Christine Jamieson, and Samantha
Lorusso for their assistance in data collection. We are grateful to our participants for their generous contribu-
tion of their time. This project was supported by two grants from the Duke University Undergraduate Research
Support Office awarded to Shian-Ling Keng. Dr. Smoski’s effort was supported by K23 MH087754.
Correspondence regarding this article should be directed to Shian-Ling Keng, MA, Box 3026, Duke University
Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710. E-mail:
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... While evidence suggests that mindfulness practices can reduce anxiety, the mechanisms of action are less clear. 22 There are multiple theoretic models of how mindfulness-based programming (MBP) may effect change, of which the majority of models include self-regulation, 23,24 or a specific subordinate domain of self-regulation such as emotion-regulation, 25 attention-regulation 25,26 and self-management, 27 as a key mechanism. While emotion-regulation (e.g., reduced worrying and improved regulation of negative emotions) has been shown to mediate the association between mindfulness and psychological distress, including anxiety. ...
... p = . 22), and that the MBSR group had greater levels of mindfulness than the control group at 1-month follow-up assessment (F(1,140)=4.64, p = .03). ...
Objective: Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) reduces anxiety among undergraduate students; however, there is limited evidence demonstrating mechanistic underpinnings. Theoretical models implicate cognitive self-regulation as a mechanism. This study explored whether an adapted MBSR embedded in a college course reduced anxiety and if self-regulation mediated any intervention effects. Participants: 144 undergraduate students participated in the study; 34 completed a MBSR course and 110 served as a matched control group. Methods: Mindfulness, self-regulation, and anxiety were measured at pre-MBSR, post-MBSR, and 1-month follow-up. Results: Repeated-measure ANOVAs indicated significant effects of MBSR for self-regulation and anxiety. Longitudinal mediation models indicated significant mediation effects of self-regulation on anxiety at post-intervention and 1-month follow-up. Conclusions: MBSR can be implemented within a college course to indirectly affect anxiety mechanistically via self-regulation. Given increasing rates of anxiety in college students and reduced capacity for counseling centers to meet need, MBSR holds promise for future clinical study.
... For one to begin to care for others, they must start by caring for themselves. Through SCPs people can gain improvements in self-awareness and emotional self-regulation (Keng et al., 2012;Lutz et al., 2013). Imagine a cup that represents the emotions we hold about ourselves. ...
An argument can be made that integrating mindfulness practices (MPs) into Outdoor Adventure (OA) programming can help students develop and expand on a variety of social and emotional attributes, such as stress reduction, awareness of the present moment, relationship skills, and maintaining psychosocial equilibrium. However, there is a paucity of empirical inquiry that specifically aims to explore in-depth participant experience using MPs in OA programs. The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the perceived benefits that MPs provided university students during OA trips. The term Mindful Lived-Outdoor Experience (MLOE) was conceptualized to define a participant’s experience during an OA trip with MPs included. The findings suggest MPs are a beneficial component in adventure programming. The MPs promoted opportunity for participants to reduce stress and socially engage during the OA activity.
... As such, there have been attempts to analyze the mechanism of NBT, but not many studies have been reported the results of empirical analysis of the relationship between changes in variables. Studies on psychological treatment mechanisms such as mindfulness-based therapy, which is often combined with nature, reported negative relationship between negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, and stress and positive mental health variables such as life satisfaction and mindfulness [50][51][52][53][54] . For NBT to work effectively as a psychosocial intervention, it is necessary to examine whether the mechanisms and associations between the variables found in psychotherapy also can be applied to NBT. ...
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the world population suffered from a range of mental health problems, and there has been a need for new community-based psychosocial interventions. This study aimed to investigate the effectiveness and feasibility of Natural-Based Therapy (NBT) for the community experiencing psychological distress during the pandemic. A multi-site trial comparing NBT and control groups was conducted. In total, 291 participants with mild to severe depression or anxiety were recruited from 11 sites in Korea. A total of 192 participants participated in 30-sessions therapeutic gardening, and 99 remained in the control group. Mental health and well-being were assessed using seven measures of depression, anxiety, daily activity, life satisfaction, mindfulness, stress, and loneliness. The effect sizes (Cohen’s d) were medium to large: depression (0.583), anxiety (0.728), daily activity (1.002), life satisfaction (0.786), mindfulness (0.645), stress (0.903), and loneliness (0.695). Multilevel analysis showed significant interaction effects in the Time × Group for all measures. The results of the Pearson correlation analysis indicated that changes in all variables correlated significantly with each other, with moderate to large effect sizes. Therapeutic alliance at post-test moderated intervention outcomes. We concluded that NBT is a promising psychosocial intervention for treating psychological distress for community dwellers.
... We also evaluated the BSCI's internal consistency and construct validity. We expected moderate associations between the BSCI and both positive psychological variables (i.e., mindfulness, quality of life, peaceful acceptance of cancer, active coping, and progress in values-based living) and negative psychological variables (i.e., depressive symptoms, anxiety, rumination, denial, struggle with illness, psychological inflexibility, cognitive fusion, and obstruction in values-based living) based on theory [8,[10][11][12]. Additionally, we examined whether the BSCI had smaller correlations with negative psychological variables (e.g., anxiety, depressive symptoms, rumination) compared to the SCS-SF total score and smaller correlations with anxiety and depressive symptoms compared to negative items of the SCS-SF. ...
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Research and clinical interest in self-compassion has grown due to its associations with physical and mental health benefits. Widely used measures of self-compassion have conceptual and psychometric limitations that warrant attention. The purpose of this project was to develop a new self-compassion measure, the Brief Self-Compassion Inventory (BSCI), and test its psychometric properties. We developed items for the BSCI based on theory, prior research, and expert and cancer patient feedback. The BSCI was then tested with adults diagnosed with breast, gastrointestinal, lung, or prostate cancer (N = 404). Confirmatory factor analysis suggested a unidimensional structure, and internal consistency reliability was excellent. Construct validity of the BSCI was established through its correlations with psychological variables hypothesized to be related to self-compassion, such as mindfulness, acceptance of cancer, and other coping strategies. Furthermore, measurement invariance testing of the BSCI indicated that it could be used across patients of varying genders, cancer types, and stages of illness. In conclusion, the 5-item BSCI was determined to be psychometrically sound and suitable for use with adults of varying genders, cancer types, and stages of disease. The measure warrants testing with other medical and nonclinical populations.
... 15,94 In the same vein, the small but significant increase in self-compassion (+4.12%) supports extant findings on the effects of mindfulness-based interventions. 95 No effect was detected for compassion with others. However, here, pre-training scores were very high, and a ceiling effect seems to be the most likely explanation (Scale Mean: 19.25, SD = 2.89, Scale Range 0-25). ...
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Recent research suggests that mindfulness, compassion, and self-compassion relate to inner transformative qualities/capacities and intermediary factors that can support increased pro-environmental behavior and attitudes across individual, collective, organizational, and system levels. However, current insights focus on the individual level, are restricted to certain sustainability fields, and wider experimental evidence is scarce and contradictory. Our pilot study addresses this gap and tests the aforementioned proposition in the context of an intervention: an EU Climate Leadership Program for high-level decision-makers. The intervention was found to have significant effects on transformative qualities/capacities, intermediary factors, and pro-environmental behaviors and engagement across all levels. The picture is, however, more complex for pro-environmental attitudes. With due limitations (e.g., small sample size), this preliminary evidence confirms the feasibility and potential of mindfulness- and compassion-based interventions to foster inner-outer transformation for sustainability and climate action. Aspects that should be taken into account in larger confirmatory trials are discussed.
Objective: This study explored nurses’ need for stress reduction web applications, with the aim of developing a web application. Methods: A total of 12 nurses, aged 20 years or older, who were working as full-time staff nurses participated in a focus group discussion. Audio transcriptions were made from the data and analyzed by text mining using KH Coder. Results: The results of the co-occurrence network revealed that the words “myself,” “open,” and “watch” were the most frequently occurring. The hierarchical cluster analysis classified them into seven clusters. The results of the two analyses identified the following seven categories: concentration and reduction, physical exercise, use of the application, touch the application every day, open the application every day, I can see the changes from using the application, and rewards to continue using the application. Conclusion: The study results identified key elements that should be considered in developing a stress reduction web application, according to nurses’ needs. In the future, it is necessary to develop a web application that meets the needs of nurses and to examine the feasibility and effectiveness of the web application.
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The purpose of this research is to examine the effects of a mindfulness course based on Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) targeting leaves of absences due to depression. The mindfulness course consists of three group sessions each of which takes 2 hours. Nine participants were assigned to the intervention group and eight were assigned to the control group. The results were as follows. The positive factor of self-compassion and physical symptoms improved, and better balances between work and family life were made. We also discussed the effects of the mindfulness course based on MBCT targeting leaves of absences by analyzing free descriptive answers.
Purpose The present paper reviews the scholarly literature on mindfulness and coaching and explores the potential contributions to coaching psychology of empirically supported intervention approaches that are based on or incorporate mindfulness concepts or practices. Method The main psychological mindfulness intervention approaches are described and their effects with non-clinical populations are reviewed. Evidence is then documented to suggest emerging applications of mindfulness interventions to coaching psychology. Results The evidence reviewed suggests that mindfulness may enhance the well-being and effectiveness of coaches who have a personal practice of mindfulness; improves the well-being and psychological functioning of clients who are taught mindfulness skills; offers a rich repertoire of evidence-based techniques and strategies for facilitating change; and may contribute to theoretical base of coaching psychology, particularly with regards to understanding the process of individual change. Conclusions This paper makes suggestions for coaching practitioners, discusses practical guidelines for integrating mindfulness into the practice of coaching, and makes recommendations for future research.
As demonstrated by the chapters in this Handbook, self-compassion is associated with myriad benefits for mental health and psychological well-being. The beneficial impact of self-compassion is perhaps even more evident in psychotherapy, where self-compassion has long held a role under the umbrella of “self-acceptance.” Drawing primarily on compassion-focused therapy and the mindful self-compassion program, this chapter provides guidance on how to integrate self-compassion into psychotherapy and provides and overview of the evidence connecting self-compassion with therapeutic processes and outcomes.The chapter begins by locating self-compassion in the context of psychotherapy, past and present. Next, we outline the evidence for self-compassion as a transdiagnostic and transtheoretical mechanism of action in therapy. The majority of this chapter describes three levels by which self-compassion can be integrated into psychotherapy—compassionate presence, compassionate relationship, and compassionate interventions—along with supporting research. When all three levels are part of treatment, it can be considered fully self-compassion based. Finally, we explore emotion regulation as the basic mechanism by which self-compassion works in psychotherapy, along with underlying neurophysiological and psychological processes, especially the cultivation of secure attachment and the alleviation of shame.KeywordsSelf-compassionPsychotherapyTherapeutic relationshipTherapeutic allianceEmotion regulation
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The most commonly used method to test an indirect effect is to divide the estimate of the indirect effect by its standard error and compare the resulting z statistic with a critical value from the standard normal distribution. Confidence limits for the indirect effect are also typically based on critical values from the standard normal distribution. This article uses a simulation study to demonstrate that confidence limits are imbalanced because the distribution of the indirect effect is normal only in special cases. Two alternatives for improving the performance of confidence limits for the indirect effect are evaluated: (a) a method based on the distribution of the product of two normal random variables, and (b) resampling methods. In Study 1, confidence limits based on the distribution of the product are more accurate than methods based on an assumed normal distribution but confidence limits are still imbalanced. Study 2 demonstrates that more accurate confidence limits are obtained using resampling methods, with the bias-corrected bootstrap the best method overall.
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A Monte Carlo study compared 14 methods to test the statistical significance of the intervening variable effect. An intervening variable (mediator) transmits the effect of an independent variable to a dependent variable. The commonly used R. M. Baron and D. A. Kenny (1986) approach has low statistical power. Two methods based on the distribution of the product and 2 difference-in-coefficients methods have the most accurate Type I error rates and greatest statistical power except in 1 important case in which Type I error rates are too high. The best balance of Type I error and statistical power across all cases is the test of the joint significance of the two effects comprising the intervening variable effect.
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The literature is replete with evidence that the stress inherent in health care negatively impacts health care professionals, leading to increased depression, decreased job satisfaction, and psychological distress. In an attempt to address this, the current study examined the effects of a short-term stress management program, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), on health care professionals. Results from this prospective randomized controlled pilot study suggest that an 8-week MBSR intervention may be effective for reducing stress and increasing quality of life and self-compassion in health care professionals. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.
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Preparation for the role of therapist can occur on both professional and personal levels. Research has found that therapists are at risk for occupationally related psychological problems. It follows that self-care may be a useful complement to the professional training of future therapists. The present study examined the effects of one approach to self-care, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), for therapists in training. Using a prospective, cohort-controlled design, the study found participants in the MBSR program reported significant declines in stress, negative affect, rumination, state and trait anxiety, and significant increases in positive affect and self-compassion. Further, MBSR participation was associated with increases in mindfulness, and this enhancement was related to several of the beneficial effects of MBSR participation. Discussion highlights the potential for future research addressing the mental health needs of therapists and therapist trainees. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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The stress-reductive effect of mindfulness practice is well-established, yet less is known about the cognitive mechanisms underlying this salutary outcome. We conducted a prospective observational study of 339 participants (mean age 45.7 ± 13.4) undergoing an 8-week mindfulness-based stress and pain management course and found support for our hypotheses that a) pre-post intervention increases in dispositional mindfulness are reciprocally linked with increases in positive reappraisal coping and b) the stress-reductive effects of increases in dispositional mindfulness are mediated by increases in positive reappraisal independent of changes in catastrophizing. Positive reappraisal and mindfulness appear to serially and mutually enhance one another, creating the dynamics of an upward spiral. Through mindfulness practice, individuals may engender a broadened state of awareness that facilitates empowering interpretations of stressful life events, leading to substantially reduced distress. Study findings have implications for cognitive therapy that couples mindfulness practices with restructuring techniques oriented toward benefit finding and positive reappraisal. KeywordsMindfulness–Reappraisal–Stress–Catastrophizing–Positive emotion–Upward spiral
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Given recent attention to emotion regulation as a potentially unifying function of diverse symptom presentations, there is a need for comprehensive measures that adequately assess difficulties in emotion regulation among adults. This paper (a) proposes an integrative conceptualization of emotion regulation as involving not just the modulation of emotional arousal, but also the awareness, understanding, and acceptance of emotions, and the ability to act in desired ways regardless of emotional state; and (b) begins to explore the factor structure and psychometric properties of a new measure, the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS). Two samples of undergraduate students completed questionnaire packets. Preliminary findings suggest that the DERS has high internal consistency, good test–retest reliability, and adequate construct and predictive validity.
This article defines the construct of self-compassion and describes the development of the Self-Compassion Scale. Self-compassion entails being kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of pain or failure rather than being harshly self-critical; perceiving one's experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as isolating; and holding painful thoughts and feelings in mindful awareness rather than over-identifying with them. Evidence for the validity and reliability of the scale is presented in a series of studies. Results indicate that self-compassion is significantly correlated with positive mental health outcomes such as less depression and anxiety and greater life satisfaction. Evidence is also provided for the discriminant validity of the scale, including with regard to self-esteem measures.
This study was designed to test the hypothesis that mindfulness involves sustained attention, attention switching, inhibition of elaborative processing and non-directed attention. Healthy adults were tested before and after random assignment to an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course (n = 39) or a wait-list control (n = 33). Testing included measures of sustained attention, attention switching, Stroop interference (as a measure of inhibition of elaborative processing), detection of objects in consistent or inconsistent scenes (as a measure of non-directed attention), as well as self-report measures of emotional well-being and mindfulness. Participation in the MBSR course was associated with significantly greater improvements in emotional well-being and mindfulness, but no improvements in attentional control relative to the control group. However, improvements in mindfulness after MBSR were correlated with improvements in object detection. We discuss the implications of these results as they relate to the role of attention in mindfulness. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.