Research has shown that the compassion and kindness we experience have a huge impact on how our brains mature, our physical health, and on our general well-being. Shame and social anxiety are also affected by our experience of compassion. It turns out that when we use imagery and meditation to train our brains in self-compassion, we’re able to overcome the tyranny of social fears, and we’re better able to approach life with courage, curiosity, and a capacity for joy.
Unlike most other organisms, our brains cannot tell the difference between an actual threat and a symbolic one. What this means is that our brain confuses actual threats with thinking about threats. Indeed, we tend to respond to fearful thoughts as though they are real. Nowhere is this tendency to experience and react to thoughts as if they were real more apparent than in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). And nowhere is it more evident how this tendency can trap us. For many, it not only traps us, it takes away all of our sense of wonder and possibility in the world.
If only there was a way to figure out who was likely to use the most up-to-date scientific methods, while still thoughtfully considering the circumstances of the individual needing help. That is exactly what evidence-based practice is.
I was recently at a conference on the science of psychology and mental health treatment. I was struck by the number of women in attendance compared to the number of men. Women outnumbered the men three to one. But the women were largely sitting in the audience—while the men were standing at the podium, lecturing. This experience led me to, once again, ponder questions about gender and equality in mental health and psychology. It also led me to question how we define mental health given the lower level of participation by women than men in creating that definition.