Compassion meditation training promotes resilience

Good news for caregivers

The Center for Healthy Minds reports that “Research from the University of Wisconsin–Madison suggests that as little as two weeks of compassion meditation training – intentionally cultivating positive wishes to understand and relieve the suffering of others – may reduce the distress a person feels when witnessing another’s suffering. It may also improve their ability and likelihood to respond with compassion.” This means that doctors, law enforcement officers, and first responders who experience high levels of distress or empathic burnout may find relief and resilience through compassion meditation.

What is compassion meditation?

I encourage you to read about the methodology for this controlled study for yourself, but here is a summary of what the two groups were asked to do:

  • The compassion meditation group was asked to visualize people when they were suffering and practice noticing their own personal reactions in a calm and nonjudgmental way. Focusing on a loved one, on themselves, on a stranger, and on someone with whom they had conflict, they also practiced caring for and wishing to help the other person.
  • The control group was asked to do  reappraisal training (re-interpreting personally stressful events to decrease negative emotions).

In other words, the group that did compassion meditation for 2 weeks exercised their “compassion muscle” by gradually increasing the “weight” of the relationship with each person considered, whereas the control group sought only to lessen the effect of personal memories.

Compassion meditation results

The researchers reported that “the people who had practiced compassion meditation and tended to look more directly at suffering in the negative images relative to the neutral photos also showed less activity in the amygdala, insula, and orbitofrontal cortex – areas of the brain that are usually more active when experiencing emotional distress and might lead to a withdrawal response and averted gaze. This finding was not present in the reappraisal group, and the results suggest compassion could be a mechanism through which people may become calmer in the face of suffering.”

That’s very good news indeed, for both helpers and sufferers. It appears that compassion meditation gives more resilience to the person helping the sufferer and the sufferer receives more compassionate care.

As I continue practicing and teaching mindfulness practice, I am inspired by each new benefit that unfolds for me, my patients, and our communities.

Mindfully yours,


Dr. Pamm