Lindsay Bryant and Kaytlin Constantin Spotlight: Self-Compassion and Resilience

Posted on Monday, April 12th, 2021

Written by Eliana Brereton

PhD students Lindsay Bryant (left) and Kaytlin Constantin (right)

Self-compassion is a simple and effective tool in supporting well-being, yet a practice often overlooked. Graduate training, while rewarding, is demanding, requiring students to juggle multiple responsibilities and obligations.

Balancing new academic challenges with the demands of life can cause even the most resilient of students to contend with burnout. Incorporating a self-compassion practice has positive impacts on our well-being. However, the ability to extend compassion to oneself is not an easy undertaking.

Lindsay Bryant and Kaytlin Constantin, both completing their doctoral degrees in Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology at the University of Guelph, took matters into their own hands in the creation of a self-compassion webinar to help fellow graduate students engage in self-compassion practice. Their focus was to enhance student's capacity for self-compassion – especially as they navigate through these challenging times.

Despite both being busy graduate students themselves, Lindsay and Kaytlin took time to answer some of my questions.

What is the purpose of this self-compassion webinar and who is it for?

Lindsay: This is a workshop developed by graduate students, for graduate students looking to enhance their capacity for self-compassion as they navigate the challenges of being a student during a global pandemic. At its core, self-compassion means to treat yourself the way you would treat a close friend, channeling the kindness we often so easily show others and focusing it inward.

Drawing on the works of Kristen Neff, Chris Germer and Tara Brach, this 90-minute workshop provides a basic introduction on the concept, theoretical underpinnings and research findings supporting the practice of self-compassion. Students are provided with experiential practices and opportunities for discussion. We also felt that it was important to include a discussion of common misgivings and barriers that often get in the way of being self-compassionate.

Kaytlin: The self-compassion webinar was developed by senior graduate students in the clinical psychology program for graduate students here at U of G. This occurred following a request for more mental health supports for graduate students in CSAHS. As such, we created a 1.5-hour webinar which was focused on defining the components of self-compassion, highlighting the research on self-compassion (with a focus on graduate students) and discussing common barriers to self-compassion. We also provided an opportunity for experiential practice by asking graduate students to participate in a self-compassion exercise and to reflect on that experience.

How did the actual event turn out?

Lindsay: With respect to the webinar, I’d have to say that I am most proud of the support we received from the department in getting this off the ground and accessible to students. It was wonderful to have such a positive turn out, especially when the demands of online learning are so high and finding time for additional workshops and webinars is sparse.

Kaytlin: I was pleased to see the level of engagement throughout the webinar. I think this provided students with an opportunity to hear from others experiencing similar challenges and to reflect on how self-compassion could be helpful in addition to talking through the potential barriers to practicing this skill.

Why do you think this webinar is important? Why is self-compassion so important to practice as a student?

Lindsay: As graduate students, we juggle many different responsibilities and are constantly under evaluation. The expectations we put on ourselves, as well as receive from others can be exhausting and often leave us feeling inadequate, incompetent, and not good enough. Self-compassion offers a new way of relating to oneself that fosters resiliency in the face of life's challenges. Failures and difficulties are an inevitable part of life that do not separate us from the rest but rather unite us all as humans. It is learning to respond to oneself with kindness and compassion in the face of these challenges that will support our mental and physical wellbeing across our lives. This becomes even more important when you consider the current conditions of the world and added challenges of the pandemic.

Kaytlin: Self-compassion is an important skill for everyone because as humans we are designed to be flawed, make mistakes, and experience pain and suffering. It can be hard to accept this and many of us respond to this by criticizing ourselves or telling ourselves we should not feel that way, and essentially, what that does is it makes us feel even worse - like adding fuel to the fire of suffering. We recognize that being in graduate school is often quite stressful without also managing the unique stressors that accompany the pandemic. There are many factors in our day to day right now that we cannot control, but one thing we can do is to treat ourselves with compassion - or the kindness and understanding that we so readily offer loved ones. A large body of research demonstrates that self-compassion can not only reduce suffering and promote wellness, but it can also promote resilience in response to setbacks and failures.

Self-Compassion Webinar, by students, for students
The webinar poster reads "want to learn how to relieve stress, develop coping skills, and learn about the benefits of self-compassion while completing graduate school virtually? Join us! Monday, Feb. 8 at 12 pm for 90 mins. Led by PhD students in the clinical psychology program at U of G."

What do you think your biggest challenge within this project was?

Lindsay: It's common for many people to hold strong misgivings that get in the way of being self-compassionate and challenging these beliefs may be difficult. This is especially true of graduate students, when you’re trying to sell a way of relating to yourself that is not based on an evaluation or comparison to others.

Kaytlin: One of the challenges with this project was first determining what type of resource would be most valuable for graduate students and a relatively unique resource that is not already being offered through student health services or other services on campus. As such, we completed a needs assessment to help answer this question by surveying graduate students in CSAHS about the type of service and topics they are interested in One of the most popular responses was to learn more about self-compassion, which narrowed down the topic! It took more time and brainstorming to finalize the exact format and type of delivery that would work best for graduate students, as we recognize graduate students are very busy! We ultimately decided to pilot a one-session webinar to highlight key information related to self-compassion, and incorporate time to practice and discuss this information as a group.

What drives you, as a student and as a researcher?

Lindsay: This is a tough one to answer, as there are so many things that inspire me as a graduate student in the CCAP program. I would have to say that it is my compassion and curiosity that drives me. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to meet and work with so many different individuals and families that challenge, teach, and inspire me every single day.

Kaytlin: Reflecting on my values and how my position in a graduate program in clinical child and adolescent psychology provides me with so many opportunities to live in accordance with many of my values - that is what fuels my passion and motivation for my work.

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