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article imageOp-Ed: Compassion training for adults — Yes, really

By Paul Wallis     May 23, 2013 in Health
Sydney - Compassion is one of the higher human traits. It’s not as common as it should be, in fact you could say the current global society is designed to prevent it. So someone’s come up with a way of training people to be compassionate.
Science Daily explains the theory of compassion training:
"Our fundamental question was, 'Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset?'" says Helen Weng, lead author of the study (by Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin) and a graduate student in clinical psychology. "Our evidence points to yes."
In the study, the investigators trained young adults to engage in compassion meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique to increase caring feelings for people who are suffering.
The basis of the meditation is similar to a prayer, wishing that the suffering ended, specifically directed at “you”, in a form of repeated phrasing of “May you be free from suffering” and “May you have joy and ease”.
People in the study participated in three stages: Firstly a loved one, secondly a stranger, and thirdly a “difficult” person.
The degrees of difficulty are natural enough, and also, intentionally or otherwise, represent a natural progression of relationship issues as people grow up.
The study also added a control group using a technique called “cognitive reappraisal, a technique where people learn to reframe their thoughts to feel less negative”.
The training element is to put it mildly interesting in principle:
After comparing the compassion training with building muscle, Weng continued:
"We wanted to investigate whether people could begin to change their emotional habits in a relatively short period of time," says Weng.
Significant research
The story here is almost invisible because of its sheer scope. The idea of training people in a “skill” like compassion is very different. Imagine training people in love, happiness or other mental capabilities.
It’s quite possible this sort of training could be used to deal with sociopathic issues and would definitely have some sort of role in anger management, the not-all-that-new epidemic which seems to keep on increasing.
The strange thing is that this is also timely research, in the face of a new psychiatric diagnostic handbook which considers blushing and video gaming to be mental disorders, but doesn’t consider a society indifferent to human suffering as a mental problem and a political system which is so totally lacking in compassion as well as a sense of duty and blocks bans on weapons, health, jobs and everything else.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about compassion training, Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Wais, University of Wisconsin, Helen Weng, Mental disorders