Research interests

My overall aim is to improve the lives of families (parents, children, and grandparents) through cultivating mindfulness and compassion towards self and others. There are three parts to my research:

  1. First is research concerned with identifying how differing levels of compassion influences interactions between family members.
  2. Second is developing and evaluating new assessment and treatment protocols that aim to increase levels of compassion towards self and others.
  3. Third is research aimed at understanding the mechanisms of change during psychological interventions that aim to increase compassion towards self and others.

What do we mean by Mindfulness and Compassion?

Mindfulness can be quite difficult to define. One of the most well known definitions of mindfulness is from Jon Kabat-Zinn (he developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program):

A non-elaborative, non-judgmental, present-centered awareness in which thoughts, feelings, and sensations are accepted as they are.”

Mindfulness promotes the acceptance of thoughts, emotions, and memories, as opposed to suppressing or avoiding them. I recently stumbled across this definition of mindfulness as well, which I particularly like:

“Mindfulness is a process of achieving greater psychological openness to unwanted thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations; improved flexible awareness of the present moment – including physical surroundings as well as the perspectives of others, and enhanced activation toward valued ends and desired changes (Hayes et al., 2011).”

And what is Compassion? Paul Gilbert, a pioneer in compassion research defines compassion as:

“Compassion is an awareness and sensitivity to the suffering of others, with a motivation and commitment to try and alleviate it.”

The team at CCARE (Centre for Compassion Altruism Research and Education) define compassion as:

“Compassion may be defined as a complex multidimensional construct that is comprised of four key components: (1) an awareness of suffering (cognitive component), (2) sympathetic concern related to being emotionally moved by suffering (affective component), (3) a wish to see the relief of that suffering (intentional component), and (4) a responsiveness or readiness to help relieve that suffering (motivational component).”

You can direct compassion both towards others and towards yourself. Self-Compassion has been defined by Kristin Neff as:

  1. Being mindful, rather than over-identifying with problems;
  2. Connecting with others, rather than isolating oneself; and
  3. Adopting an attitude of self-kindness, rather than being judgmental.

The Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University is a world leading hub for compassion research, and I highly recommend you view their website for more information (http://ccare.stanford.edu), it also hosts a number of insightful videos showcasing compassion research from world leaders.