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Embodying compassion: A virtual reality paradigm for overcoming excessive self-criticismFalconer, Caroline J.; Slater, Mel; Rovira, Aitor; King, John A.; Gilbert, Paul; Antley, Angus; Brewin, Chris R.; University College London; University of Barcelona; University of Derby (PLOS, 2014-11-12)Virtual reality has been successfully used to study and treat psychological disorders such as phobias and posttraumatic stress disorder but has rarely been applied to clinically-relevant emotions other than fear and anxiety. Self-criticism is a ubiquitous feature of psychopathology and can be treated by increasing levels of self-compassion. We exploited the known effects of identification with a virtual body to arrange for healthy female volunteers high in self-criticism to experience self-compassion from an embodied first-person perspective within immersive virtual reality. Whereas observation and practice of compassionate responses reduced self-criticism, the additional experience of embodiment also increased self-compassion and feelings of being safe. The results suggest potential new uses for immersive virtual reality in a range of clinical conditions.
Embodying self-compassion within virtual reality and its effects on patients with depression.Falconer, Caroline J.; Rovira, Aitor; King, John A.; Gilbert, Paul; Antley, Angus; Fearon, Pasco; Ralph, Neil; Slater, Mel; Brewin, Chris R.; University College London; et al. (Cambridge University Press, 2018-01-02)Background Self-criticism is a ubiquitous feature of psychopathology and can be combatted by increasing levels of self-compassion. However, some patients are resistant to self-compassion. Aims To investigate whether the effects of self-identification with virtual bodies within immersive virtual reality could be exploited to increase self-compassion in patients with depression. Method We developed an 8-minute scenario in which 15 patients practised delivering compassion in one virtual body and then experienced receiving it from themselves in another virtual body. Results In an open trial, three repetitions of this scenario led to significant reductions in depression severity and self-criticism, as well as to a significant increase in self-compassion, from baseline to 4-week follow-up. Four patients showed clinically significant improvement. Conclusions The results indicate that interventions using immersive virtual reality may have considerable clinical potential and that further development of these methods preparatory to a controlled trial is now warranted.
Recreational 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA) or ‘ecstasy’ and self-focused compassion: Preliminary steps in the development of a therapeutic psychopharmacology of contemplative practicesKamboj, Sunjeev K; Kilford, Emma J.; Minchin, Stephanie; Moss, Abigail; Lawn, Will; Das, Ravi K.; Falconer, Caroline J.; Gilbert, Paul; Curran, H Valerie; Freeman, Tom P.; et al. (Sage, 2015-05-18)3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA) produces diverse pro-social effects. Cognitive training methods rooted in Eastern contemplative practices also produce these effects through the development of a compassionate mindset. Given this similarity, we propose that one potential mechanism of action of MDMA in psychotherapy is through enhancing effects on intrapersonal attitudes (i.e. pro-social attitudes towards the self). We provide a preliminary test of this idea. Recreational MDMA (ecstasy)-users were tested on two occasions, having consumed or not consumed ecstasy. Selfcritical and self-compassionate responses to self-threatening scenarios were assessed before (T1) and after (T2) ecstasyuse (or no use), and then after compassionate imagery (T3). Moderating roles of dispositional self-criticism and avoidant attachment were examined. Separately, compassionate imagery and ecstasy produced similar sociotropic effects as well as increases and reductions in self-compassion and self-criticism respectively. Higher attachment-related avoidance was associated with additive effects of compassionate imagery and ecstasy on self-compassion. Findings were in line with MDMA’s neuropharmacological profile, its phenomenological effects and proposed adjunctive use in psychotherapy. However, although conditions were balanced, the experiment was non-blind and MDMA dose/purity was not determined. Controlled studies with pharmaceutically pure MDMA are still needed to test these effects rigorously.