Effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on shame, self-compassion and psychological distress in anxious and depressed patients: A pilot study

Psychol Psychother. 2018 Dec;91(4):434-449. doi: 10.1111/papt.12170. Epub 2018 Jan 18.


Objectives: The tendency to experience shame or guilt is associated differentially with anxiety and depression, with shame being associated with greater psychopathology. Correlational studies have shown self-compassion to be related to lower shame and rumination, and mindfulness-based interventions increase self-compassion. Therefore, mindfulness-based interventions may decrease shame. This pilot study aimed to assess the association of shame, rumination, self-compassion, and psychological distress and the effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on these measures in a clinical sample.

Design: Single-group design with pre-test and post-test measures.

Method: Thirty-two service users who experienced clinically diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorders in a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy programme were assessed before and twenty-two after therapy with measures of shame-proneness, external shame, rumination, self-compassion, and psychological distress.

Results: Shame-proneness and external shame were positively correlated with self-coldness, and external shame was positively correlated with stress and depressive symptoms. Self-compassion increased and self-coldness decreased, while shame-proneness, rumination, anxiety, and stress symptoms decreased from pre- to post-treatment. There was no significant reduction in depressive symptoms, guilt-proneness, or external shame.

Conclusion: Our preliminary findings suggest that mindfulness-based approaches may be helpful in increasing self-compassion and reducing shame-proneness in mixed groups of anxious and depressed patients. Controlled studies of the effects of mindfulness-based interventions on shame in clinical populations are warranted.

Practitioner points: Shame-proneness and external shame showed different patterns of relationship with depressive and stress symptoms and with self-compassion. Shame-proneness decreased to a greater extent than external shame decreased following participation in an MBCT group. Mindfulness-based interventions may benefit shame-proneness to a greater extent than external shame.

Keywords: anxiety; depression; mindfulness; rumination; self-compassion; shame.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mindfulness / methods*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Shame
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Treatment Outcome