Research Spotlight: Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living

By Erik van den Brink and Frits Koster

The overall aim of the Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living (MBCL) program is to alleviate suffering and enhance physical, psychological and social wellbeing by offering a science-based training in compassion towards oneself and others, building on mindfulness skills that have already been developed in basic mindfulness courses. Nowadays, mindfulness courses are widely offered in preventive and clinical health care and it is not surprising that the interest in follow-up programs is steadily rising. MBCL is such a program, offering explicit practices in (self-)compassion.

‘Compassion’ is defined as the capacity to be sensitive to the suffering of ourselves and others and the willingness to relieve and prevent it (Gilbert, 2014). Compassion has a transpersonal quality, as it involves a commitment to alleviate and prevent suffering, whoever is the (potential) sufferer. Therefore, whenever we speak of ‘compassion’, we include ‘self-compassion’. Many recognise their tendency to overlook themselves while trying to be compassionate and the subjective goals most often expressed by those who apply for the course are: to develop a kinder and warmer relationship with themselves; to find a healthy balance between caring for others and caring for themselves; and to find ease with life’s inevitable pain and ‘dis-ease’.

MBCL is training oriented

MBCL is designed as a group training for participants who previously followed a mindfulness training, e.g. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or Breathworks, Experience with a program based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or Dialectical Behaviour Therapy or an established meditation practice may also be sufficient. Our books on MBCL can be used as self-help guides, but a group and competent trainer are recommended, as they can offer a safe holding for one’s inner process and emphasize common humanity. However, MBCL is very much a training and not a (group) therapy. As with MBSR and MBCT, participants learn to become their own mentor, coach, and therapist. They can share their inner processes, but do not have to.

The MBCL program can be offered as a preventive program and is also suitable for those with current health problems to support conventional treatments. It is trans-diagnostic as it provides a way of dealing with suffering in whatever form it presents itself, not as a substitute for methods aimed at a cure, but to complement these by cultivating an attitude of care. MBCL is not only for patients but can also benefit health care professionals, therapists, and counselors. In fact, it can be offered to everyone who benefitted from mindfulness training and would like to deepen their practice with ‘heartfulness’.

MBCL combines ancient wisdom with modern insights

MBCL combines ancient wisdom from contemplative traditions with modern insights from neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, positive psychology, and third-generation behavior therapies, such as mindfulness-based approaches, Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). From the evolutionary perspective, compassion is not a luxury but a basic necessity for survival. The MBCL program is similar in structure to an MBSR/MBCT course, with eight sessions of 2 ½ hours and a silent session. All exercises build on skills acquired in previous mindfulness practice and most are guided in the group sessions. Participants are given audio material and a workbook to support practice at home (an English MBCL workbook and self-help guide will be published by Routledge in 2018).

Science confirms that kindness and compassion are to the brain what the breath is to life (Siegel, 2010). Luckily we can train the brain and develop kindness and compassion. The MBCL program gives a framework on how we can develop and train these valuable qualities enabling more health, happiness, and social harmony. For more information see or


Gilbert, P. (2014). The origins and nature of compassion focused therapy. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53, 6–41.

Siegel, D. J. (2010). The mindful therapist: A clinician’s guide to mindsight and neural integration. New York: W.W. Norton.

Van den Brink, E. & Koster, F. (2015). Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living – A new training programme to deepen mindfulness with heartfulness. London: Routledge.

Erik van den Brink

Erik van den Brink

Erik van den Brink is a psychiatrist, psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher with over 25 years of experience in ambulant mental health care. He has extensive experience in meditation and specialized in mindfulness-based and compassion focussed approaches to mental health. He was involved with the Center for Integrative Psychiatry in Groningen, The Netherlands, since its founding. He currently works at a psycho-oncology center and offers training, supervision, and therapy from his private practice. He is a frequently asked guest-teacher at training institutes across Europe. See

Frits Koster

Frits Koster

Frits Koster is a vipassana meditation teacher and certified mindfulness teacher and healthcare professional. He has worked and taught mindfulness and compassion in healthcare settings for many years. He studied Buddhist psychology for six years as a monk in Southeast Asia and is the author of several books, including Liberating Insight and The Web of Buddhist Wisdom (Silkworm Books, Thailand). He trains mindfulness teachers across Europe at the Institute for Mindfulness-Based Approaches (IMA). See or

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Latest update: December 15, 2016
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