Between 2013 en 2017 PhD student Rhoda Schuling investigated whether mindfulness based compassion training effectively reduces recurrent depressive symptoms in adults. The program used in the study was Mindfulness based Compassionate Living (MBCL), developed by Frits Koster and Erik van den Brink as a follow-up training to MBCT. During the research two groups of participants, of which half received MBCL and half did not, were compared on depressive symptoms. In addition, levels of rumination, self-compassion and mindfulness were investigated, amongst others. In individual interviews we assessed whether participants had different experiences with MBCL compared to MBCT, and if so, what constituted these experiences.
Our pilot study showed that the MBCL program needed some adjustments in order to be better applicable for participants. We made those adjustments and the new program seemd to be helpful in reducing depressive symptoms and rumination, and in increasing self-compassion and mindfulness skills. The results of the large trial and interviews have yet to be published.
Recurrent depression is a common phenomenon. One in five people in the Netherlands will encounter it across their lifespan and the WHO estimates it to be the most frequent ailment worldwide by 2030. Depression often has great impact on a person’s private, social and societal environment. For this reason, much research on mental wellbeing is focused on finding ways to prevent and treat depression.
MBCT has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms. For some participants however, this reduction does not occur or residual symptoms persist. There is still room for improvement.
Research on the working mechanisms of MBCT showed that MBCT often encourages a kinder attitude towards the self, and less self-criticism. These are not the explicit focus of MBCT however, and so the idea arose to offer practices in a follow-up training, that focus explicitly on developing more compassion towards the self. The researchers are very curious to see whether such an approach results in even more relief from depressive symptoms.
For this study we invited adults (18+) who had experienced depression at least once in their life and who had followed MBCT at least one year prior to participation in the study. Certain circumstances that would influence the outcome of the study inappropriately were assessed in the decision to include or exclude participants, such as current alcohol abuse or other addictions, and whether the participant had recently undergone electro convulsive therapy.
The participants were randomly divided into two groups: one half received MBCL and the other half did not. Both groups continued to make use of their usual health care, such as visits to the GP, use of certain medication or seeing a therapist. Before the training and waiting period (for participants who did not immediately receive MBCL) online questionnaires concerning items on depressive symptoms, rumination, self-compassion and mindfulness, were distributed. Afterwards, the same was done. Using statistic methods of analysis, the answers of the two groups were compared.
In November 2015, the last data was collected; this concerned a repeat of the questionnaires approximately six months after the MBCL. Since then, all data have been properly sorted and at the moment, completion of data analysis is near. Soon reports on the outcomes will be completed.
The study was conducted by Rhoda Schuling MA, originally a linguist. She has been practicing mindfulness since 2008 and completed teacher training in MBSR in 2013. During the research, she was supervised by Prof. Anne Speckens, head of the Radboudumc Centre for Mindfulness, and Prof. Willem Kuyken, head of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. In addition, dr. Marloes Huijbers and dr. Hiske van Ravesteijn were involved as co-promotors.
Since the start of the study, two publication have appeared. Read them here.