Cognitive-Based Compassion Training: A Promising Prevention Strategy for At-Risk Adolescents

Abstract

Compared to the general population, youth in foster care experience multiple psychosocial difficulties due to exceptionally high rates of maltreatment. Many youth in care receive psychological and/or psychotropic treatment but not all require or are willing to accept that level of intervention. For many, a “mental health” approach feels pathologizing. Nevertheless, these youth have suffered maltreatment and interventions to improve their ability to cope with past trauma and their often uncertain present are clearly needed. Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) provides an alternative perspective on suffering and can be framed as a wellness intervention that is appropriate for all humans. The present study examined whether a 6-week CBCT intervention would improve psychosocial functioning among adolescents in foster care. Seventy adolescents were randomized to CBCT (twice weekly) or a wait-list condition. Youth were assessed at baseline and after 6 weeks. Groups did not differ on measures of psychosocial functioning following training; however practice frequency was associated with increased hopefulness and a trend for a decrease in generalized anxiety. Qualitative results indicated that participants found CBCT useful for dealing with daily life stressors. Adolescents in care were willing to engage in CBCT. The majority reported CBCT was very helpful and almost all reported they would recommend CBCT to a friend. Participants reported specific instances of using CBCT strategies to regulate emotion, manage stress, or to respond more compassionately towards others. Standardized self-report measures were not sensitive to qualitative reports of improved functioning, suggesting the need for measures more sensitive to the positive changes noted or longer training periods to demonstrate effects. Practical issues surrounding implementation of such programs in high-risk youth populations are identified. Recommendations are provided for further development.

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Correspondence to Charles L. Raison.

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Reddy, S.D., Negi, L.T., Dodson-Lavelle, B. et al. Cognitive-Based Compassion Training: A Promising Prevention Strategy for At-Risk Adolescents. J Child Fam Stud 22, 219–230 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-012-9571-7

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Keywords

  • Foster care
  • Meditation
  • Maltreatment
  • Anxiety
  • Adolescents