Current Research

How does compassion benefit the individual? Humanity? How can developing compassion improve one’s health, or help build the resilience of those who care for others?

These questions and more are being addressed by our team of researchers and their colleagues across the nation. Through the investigation of contemplative methods including Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT), we’re learning more about how these ancient practices, adapted for modern times, are playing a positive role in health, well-being, and fostering cooperative and supportive environments.

Pilot Study: Applying Cognitively-Based Compassion Training with Transgender Youth and Their Parents

This research is led by Russell Toomey and Michele Walsh (both of the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences), in collaboration with Madeleine DeBlois (SFCS) and Tad Pace (College of Nursing and Department of Psychiatry) and Maura Shramko (SFCS).

Goals

Transgender and gender creative youth experience heightened risk for mental health problems related to several unique interpersonal, medical, and contextual challenges that they face in their daily lives. The parents of transgender youth also experience stressors related to isolation, stigma, and ambiguity. This project examined the feasibility and effectiveness of  Cognitively-Based Compassion Training TM with transgender youth and their families (n = 5 families). There were two main aims.

Aim 1. Assess the feasibility and acceptability of an innovative family-focused compassion-based meditation intervention for trans youth and their families.  
Aim 2. Examine changes in theoretically-specified family- and youth-related outcomes (e.g., mental health, coping, stress) immediately following the intervention and at three-months post-intervention.

Methods

This study utilized a pre-post intervention design without a control group. Participants were recruited from a support group for parents of trans youth and pediatricians serving trans youth. Several data collection methods were used, including pre-, mid-, and post-intervention self-report surveys, daily surveys, saliva collection, weekly-post intervention surveys, and focus groups.

Predictions

We hypothesized that the intervention has the potential to improve parent-adolescent relationships, increase the use of effective coping strategies among trans youth and their parents, and contribute to less bodily inflammation and better mental health for transgender teens and their parents.

Results

Evidence of the feasibility and acceptability of the intervention was found:

  • Families completed at least 80% of the sessions
  • ​Caregivers and teens found the sessions to be interesting and useful
  • On average, teens practiced 3.5 to 5.5 days per week and parents practiced 4.14 to 4.86 days per week
  • ​Two-thirds of the teens used the guided meditations to practice and all of the parents used the guided meditations

Evidence of potential effectiveness of the intervention for self-reported mental health outcomes:

  • For parents, reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms were demonstrated three months post-intervention. Increases in self-compassion, healthy emotion regulation, and mindfulness were also demonstrated three months post-intervention.
  • For teens, reductions in depressive symptoms were also demonstrated three months post-intervention. Increases in teens’ overall social support, positive family relationships, mindfulness, healthy emotion regulation, and self-compassion were also demonstrated three months post-intervention.