A mixed method examination into the effects of an eight-week mindfulness training course on stress and empathy levels in master's level psychotherapy students
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MA in Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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Previous research reports positive effects of mindfulness training in increasing empathy and reducing stress in mental health and social work professionals. However past studies have tended to use either qualitative or quantitative methods of inquiry. This study used a mixed method design in order to gain a fuller understanding of the effects of an eight-week mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) course on mindfulness, stress and empathy in Master’s level psychotherapy trainees. A convenience sample of 18 students participated in the study, nine took part in the eight-week mindfulness course and a control group of nine students did not take the course. Stress, empathy and mindfulness of both groups were measured using paired sample t tests pre and post course. Participation in the intervention resulted in significantly favourable increased levels of mindfulness (p < 0.01) and the perspective taking dimension of empathy (p < 0.01). Participation also resulted in significantly favourable reduced levels of perceived stress (p < 0.01) and the personal distress dimension of empathy (p < 0.05). The empathic concern dimension of empathy showed a favourable upward trend. The Fantasy Scale dimension showed no change. Mindfulness was positively correlated with Perspective Taking (cognitive empathy). It was negatively correlated with Perceived Stress and Personal Distress (affective empathy) so that higher levels of mindfulness predicted lower levels of both Perceived Stress and Personal Distress (the personal stress invoked in seeing other’s distress). Participants of the mindfulness course also took part in a focus group one month after completion of the course. Participants reported using mindfulness as an ongoing resource to manage stress. They also reported having an increased ability to tolerate 7 being alone with difficult emotions, an increased awareness of automaticity, an increase in self and other body awareness, and an increased ability to differentiate between their own emotions and those of their clients. The comparison of the qualitative and quantitative data pointed to a gap in information in the measure of empathy used in the quantitative part of this study, namely there is no measure of the body awareness dimension of empathy in the Interpersonal Reactivity Index. This information can be used to further the understanding of mindfulness and to add to the calls for mindfulness training to be included on professional psychotherapy training courses in psychotherapy. Author keywords: Mindfulness, empathy, stress