In many countries two types of Compassion Training are being offered: Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living (MBCL) and Mindful Self Compassion (MSC). Both programmes consist of eight sessions and an extra session in silence and intend to cultivate compassion.

MBCL has been developed from the close cooperation of two pioneering mindfulness teachers who have been working with MBSR and MBCT in mental health care for many years: psychiatrist and psychotherapist Erik van den Brink and vipassana meditation teacher Frits Koster. In their programme they have incorporated and integrated the work of Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer and also the work of Paul Gilbert, who developed Compassion Focused Therapy, building on an evolutionary model of the human mind. On the other hand MSC is especially based on the work of its developers: the researcher Kristin Neff, who is a pioneer in researching self-compassion, and clinical psychologist Christopher Germer, who has done a lot of work in the field of meditation and psychotherapy.

What they have in common:

  • MBCL and MSC draw from many similar sources and present compassion training in a secular, non-religious way. Based on transdiagnostic views on human suffering and universal models of the human mind, they can both be applied in various settings (preventitive, primary and secondary healthcare; coaching; counselling; education; human resource; management).
  • Both programmes offer exercises which are helpful in dealing with stress and (emotional) pain in a healthier way and in developing a kinder attitude toward ourselves. Both programmes seek to cultivate wholesome mental states, integrating insights from modern psychology and ancient contemplative practice in kindness and compassion (such as metta and tonglen).
  • Both MBCL and MSC present exercises which have an evidence-base and incorporate new neuroscientific and clinical findings.

How they differ:

  • MBCL is designed as a follow-up programme after having followed a basic mindfulness course, preferably MBSR or MBCT, on which it specifically builds. It deepens already established mindfulness skills and expands the practice with compassion-focused exercises. Hence, it is required that teachers of the MBCL curriculum are already experienced in teaching MBSR or MBCT. MSC is intended as a stand-alone programme and has integrated basic mindfulness exercises in its curriculum; it does not require participants to have followed a mindfulnessbased programme first.
  • More so than MSC, MBCL uses compassionate imagery, derived from CFT and other sources, as a mindfulness-based practice. Expanding the teaching on stress, as offered in MBSR/MBCT, it pays attention to themes like emotional regulation, compassionately dealing with resistance, desire, inner patterns, shame, guilt, self-criticism, compassionate letter writing and forgiveness. It is not grouptherapy, however, and follows the teaching style of MBSR/MBCT, supporting mindful self-inquiry throughout.
  • MSC focusses mainly on developing self-compassion, whereas MBCL starts with selfcompassion but also more explicitly presents exercises for developing compassion to others.
  • MBCL also pays attention to the four ‘Friends for life’ or Immeasurables that offer balance in cultivating the qualities of the heart: kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. It presents ways to practise these in a secular way, tailored toward the individual needs of participants.

What to choose?

If you have already completed a mindfulness training and have established your own practice, it may be helpful to know that MBCL follows a similar structure and has been specifically developed as a follow-up course.

However, many issues may play a role in choosing a training programme. Most participants who have followed MSC and MBCL consider both programmes enriching. However most important may be to wisely listen to your heart and to not only look at differences; both programmes are science-based and have shown valuable results.