Sowing the Seeds of Compassion: Cognitively-Based Compassion Training Gains Ground in Tucson

May 22, 2014 - Our day to day emotional responses to other people have been increasingly associated with immune system biomarkers known to predict how likely we are to become sick and how long we are likely to live. 

To help transform our emotional responses to others in ways that will enhance our health and well-being, researchers at the University of Arizona Colleges of Medicine, Nursing,  Social and Behavioral Sciences and Agriculture and Life Sciences are collaborating to investigate how the cultivation of compassion can benefit both individuals and the groups to which they belong. 

Recently, two individuals at the UA received certification in Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) as instructors in this 8-week meditation-based program that although secular, is based on ancient teachings from the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist lojong tradition. They become two of only 24 certified compassion trainers in the nation.

The UA trainers, Leslie Langbert, MSW, LCSW (FL), RYT, program project director of the Arizona Center for Research and Outreach in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, and Sally Dodds, PhD, research associate professor of psychiatry and medicine and director of Translational Research Operations have already begun putting their training to use several projects designed to benefit the Tucson community. 

Ms. Langbert is teaching CBCT to 4th and 5th grade students on the Pascua Yaqui reservation, and is slated to offer CBCT to adolescent girls in foster care living in group homes in the greater Tucson area. Dr. Dodds has commenced a pilot study to examine the potential of Cognitively-Based Compassion-Training (CBCT) to enhance emotional well-being and stress resilience in female breast cancer survivors. 

CBCT was developed by Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, of Emory University’s Department of Religion. Negi is the director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership and founding director of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative. The compassion training is based on the principle that self-centered thoughts and emotions contribute to our suffering, whereas altruistic thoughts and behaviors ultimately benefit oneself and others.

CBCT involves an in-depth exploration and the recognition of the sources of self-destructive thoughts and behavior patterns and addresses ways to reverse and transform them. The practice includes developing insight at the cognitive, emotional and behavioral levels, and shares much of its pedagogy from current research in social psychology and neuroscience, as well as in the ancient principles and practices from the lojong tradition. 

“The practice of CBCT provides profound insights into how our thought patterns and our subsequent reactions to life’s stressors contributes to our ability to respond to others with compassion, or whether we will limit our efforts to help,” explains CBCT instructor Leslie Langbert.

“Healthcare workers are often on the front lines of being with the suffering of others, which can be extremely stressful, and potentially overwhelming. It is a great gift to not only be able to include this practice in my life, but to share it with others who actively work to alleviate the suffering of others on a daily basis, and are at risk for feeling overwhelmed by the level of suffering that they are required to be present with.”

This fall, a new UA undergraduate class will be offered in the College of Sociology, as a part of the Special Topics: Care, Health and Society series in a course titled, “Self Care in the Helping Professions.” Taught by Ms. Langbert, the course will examine how the principles of CBCT can be applied in ways that allow future healthcare providers to avoid professional burn-out by moving from empathy for the patients to the more active and hopeful state of compassion.

“Students interested in all helping professions in which there is a ‘high-touch’ with others will benefit from this class” says Langbert. “This includes the disciplines of nursing, family studies, criminology, education, pre-law, social work and others. The course will include an exploration of the social psychology and fundamentals of the neuroscience research that supports and informs the pedagogy of CBCT, while including opportunities for students to explore development of a contemplative practice as a tool for their lives.”

In March, nearly 75 participants experienced the first three day immersion in CBCT held in the southwest, led by CBCT founder, Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, of Emory University (Department of Religion,  Director, Emory-Tibet Partnership and founding Director, Emory-Tibet Science Initiative) and the University of Arizona (Department of Psychiatry and Family Studies and Human Development).

The immersion retreat was sponsored jointly by the College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences organized under the direction of Charles Raison, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and the Barry and Janet Lang Associate Professor of Integrative Mental Health. Dr. Raison leads pioneering studies on the use of CBCT in multiple populations, testing the effectiveness and benefits of this program. 

For more information, contact Leslie Langbert at 520-621-6473.

Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, and Charles Raison, MD, at the CBCT immersion course in March 2014 in Tucson, AZ


Release Date: 
05/21/2014 - 8:15am