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Compassionate mind training improves mental health of teachers and support staff, according to new research

1 July 2019

Researchers at the University of Derby have found that introducing compassionate mind training to school staff significantly improves their mental wellbeing.  

The team, led by Dr Frances Maratos, Associate Professor and Reader in Emotion Science at the University, and with the help of Wendy Wood, Associate Lecturer, and Professor Paul Gilbert OBE, Founder of the Compassionate Mind Foundation, have delivered a six-module Compassionate Mind Training (CMT) programme with teachers from a number of schools across Derbyshire to help them gain greater understanding of their emotions.

They have been using Compassionate Mind Training – a valuable tool in helping people feel motivated to relieve their own suffering through different styles of thinking, feeling and behaving – and are the only researchers conducting a trial of this kind in the UK.

The results of their first study, which have just been published in a leading international journal, show many benefits of CMT in educational settings, including positive changes in wellbeing that help staff deal with the emotional difficulties of their job.    

Dr Maratos said: “Schools are becoming increasingly stressful environments for teachers, with 30% of UK teachers leaving the profession within the first five years.

“However, despite the growing agreement that problems of teacher stress are systemic and require systemic solutions, interventions to support teachers in these very stressful environments are still limited in number.

“Our research, which focuses on Compassionate Mind Training, is about noticing and bringing attention to distress in yourself and others, and then being able to do something to prevent and alleviate it.

“Over the course of six modules, we introduce teachers to a series of exercises including breathing techniques to help them maintain calm. We also show them how to switch from emotional states to motivational and compassionate states to counteract stress.

“We are really pleased with the results. This is the first study in the UK attempting to investigate the application of CMT in a school setting and, as results appear promising, CMT for educators may be a very useful and beneficial CPD tool. Of course though, we are still very much working with teachers to perfect the curriculum content.”

In the first phase of the research, more than 70 teachers and support staff took part in the pilot programme to investigate its effectiveness in a school setting. The results demonstrated that the more teaching staff practiced the exercises and engaged with compassion practice outside of the sessions, the greater their self-compassion post intervention, and the greater the decrease in their self-criticism over the same period. 

Several of the teachers and support staff talked about how “they had lost confidence in themselves” and found that they had difficulty disengaging from their school role, but that the initiative had helped them be able to respond to children’s distress effectively, as well as understand why some children behaved negatively.

The staff said the CMT exercises had helped enhance their wellbeing by enabling them to engage with self-dialogue which was far more supportive and encouraging and helped them to feel good about themselves.

Dr Maratos said: “CMT should help create a better classroom environment. If you have a teacher who is feeling stressed, overworked and tired, and who is struggling to maintain good mental health, this soon can start to affect the children they spend eight hours a day with, creating a stressful environment for all.

“With such a high number of teachers reporting that working in education is adversely affecting their mental health, our results suggest that compassion-based interventions may provide help from the stresses that teachers’ experience. As a result, we would suggest CMT, alongside changes in self-concept and their implications for staff wellbeing in school settings, now needs further examination.

“Despite this being a very short intervention, a number of staff were able to use some of the breathing exercises, body grounding, compassionate mind focusing and mind awareness training to good effect.

“We believe, and our preliminary evidence demonstrates, that CMT holds much promise as a way of helping school staff, and especially teachers, counteract the current competitive nature of education, and learn ways to counteract stress, especially that associated with self-criticism and anger rumination that contributes to burnout.”

The team is now working on the second phase of their research and trialling a pupil curriculum in collaboration with Roundhill Academy, in Leicester.

The University of Derby and the Compassionate Mind Foundation are hosting a ‘Compassion in the Classroom’ event specifically for those working in education, with talks and workshops by Dr Maratos, as well as Professor Paul Gilbert, Dr Mary Welford and Professor Katherine Weare.

For more information, and to book, visit Compassion in Schools for Educators.

Dr Maratos and her team are also looking for further primary and secondary schools to work with during the 2019-2020 academic year. This is to further roll out the staff wellbeing curriculum (with new trainers) and to conduct a larger trial of the pupil curriculum, with pupils in Year 6 and/or Year 7. To find out more, visit: www.cmtschools.org or email Dr Maratos directly on f.maratos@derby.ac.uk 

To read the full research paper, visit: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-019-01185-9

For further information contact the Corporate Communications team at pressoffice@derby.ac.uk or call 01332 591491.