Hamiltonians Barbara Smith and Mary Linda Burgess teach an eight-week course focusing on how we can treat ourselves with kindness
Clinical social worker Mary Linda Burgess (R) and psychotherapist Barbara Smith are the instructors of a mindfulness and self-compassion course, a research-based practice that encourages self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and balanced, mindful awareness. - Gary Yokoyama , The Hamilton Spectator
Barbara Smith and Mary Linda Burgess want you to take care of yourself.
Smith, a psychotherapist, and Burgess, a social worker, aren't talking about treating yourself to an afternoon latte or getting a pedicure (though they both agree that there's nothing wrong with a little self-pampering).
For Smith and Burgess, this type of self-care goes much deeper.
"This isn't 'Go out and do something.' This is, 'Come in.' Be with yourself. Ask yourself what you need," said Burgess.
“We in the Western world have this really severe inner critic that beats us up all the time, which is not true in the rest of the world. This is what this course is really designed to address: this inner critic.”
“We eventually run out, if we don’t take good care. Self-compassion offers layers of self-care that aren’t taught in other programs.”
Mary Linda Burgess
Smith and Burgess are the founders of Mindful Self-Compassion Hamilton, an eight-week program that uses mindfulness — the practice of focusing one's awareness on the present moment — as a tool for practising self-compassion.
"We in the Western world have this really severe inner critic that beats us up all the time, which is not true in the rest of the world," said Smith. "This is what this course is really designed to address: this inner critic."
Their course, which runs for eight, three-hour sessions, is a blend of meditation, short talks, experiential exercises, group discussion, and "homework" — exercises for participants to practice at home.
The class focuses on developing the three key components of self-compassion: self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness. Our internal critic, say Smith and Burgess, leads us to self-judgment, isolation, and either overidentification or avoidance of negative emotions.
"What happens when we're angry, or sad? We try to push it away. So whatever we resist, persists," said Smith. "So the idea here is not to push it away, but to stay with it, to allow it, to be with it. And paradoxically, it tends to soften, and it's OK, once we're facing it."
"We're not the Energizer Bunny. We don't go off screen and get a new battery put in, and come right back," said Burgess. "We eventually run out, if we don't take good care. Self-compassion offers layers of self-care that aren't taught in other programs."
The benefits are many, say Smith and Burgess. They point out that there are over 1,400 articles on self-compassion in the psychological literature, and that research shows that self-compassion is strongly associated with fewer negative states like depression, anxiety, stress, shame, and negative body image. At the same time, it's strongly linked to more positive states like happiness, life satisfaction and optimism.
Smith and Burgess — who met when they were both working on the Hamilton Family Health Team — run roughly three courses every year, each of which is different depending on the makeup of the class. The people who attend are from all walks of life: different age ranges, different professions, and different backgrounds. The course isn't meant to be a substitute for therapy, though it can help to support those who are in counselling.
The course follows a curriculum written by Kristin Neff, an associate professor in the University of Texas at Austin's department of educational psychology, and Chris Germer, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. Both Smith and Burgess have gone through training in order to be certified to teach the course.
Those who have taken the course say self-compassion has helped them to feel more grounded, calmer, and more able to cope with difficult situations.
"It meets a need for folks that traditional programs — for example, self-esteem programs — doesn't address. Self-compassion is what the world is lacking. It meets that need on a deeper level," said Burgess.
905-526-2452 | @EmmaatTheSpec
905-526-2452 | @EmmaatTheSpec