The current study is a two condition randomized controlled trial for women who are pregnant,
interested in becoming pregnant, or pregnant within the last year. The conditions include a
brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and a brief Compassionate Mind Training intervention.
Participants in each condition will complete a 45 minute didactic exercises and readings
followed by an email with exercises to continue practicing for a total of 2 weeks. After 2
weeks, participants will receive post-baseline assessment measures (e.g., depression,
anxiety, affect, self-reassurance, self-attacking, self-criticizing, self-compassion).
Participants will be recruited through a women's clinic in the United Kingdom by Michelle
Cree, M.S. and through listservs by Yotam Heineberg, Psy.D. The researchers will also invite
individuals in their social networks through email and through the Amazon Mechanical Turk
The primary aim of this study is to provide support for the clinical utility of
Internet-based Compassionate-Mind Training (CMT) with pregnant women, women who were
recently pregnant, or women who are interested in becoming pregnant. Specifically, the
investigators will compare an existing treatment, Internet-based Cognitive-Behavioral
Therapy (CBT) psychoeducational resources to Internet-based CMT psychoeducational resources.
The researchers hypothesize Internet-based CMT is more effective than Internet-based CBT in
enhancing self-compassion and self-reassuring and decreasing self-criticizing and
self-attacking. Additionally, the researchers hypothesize the CBT and CMT conditions will
have near equivalence for improving participant affect as well as depression and anxiety.
An additional aim of the study is to assess the feasibility and acceptability of the course.
As such, participants in each condition will be invited to complete the feedback questions
for the course. The feedback questions will then be used in the hopes of adapting and
improving the course based on participant feedback.
Up to 7.1% of new mothers in the United States may experience depression within the first
three months of giving birth (Gavin et al., 2005). If minor depressive episodes are
included, then the prevalence rate becomes as high as 19.2% (Gavin et al., 2005). The global
incidence of postnatal depression is likely even higher (Almond, 2009). This course will
target women who are interested in becoming pregnant, currently pregnant, or pregnant in the
last year who seek to improve well-being during the perinatal period.
There is a strong base of research to suggest that maternal depression has significant
impacts on offspring (Forman et al., 2007; Goodman, 2007). These effects tend to develop
while the child is still in-utero (Forman et al., 2007; Goodman, 2007) and continue until
the offspring reaches adulthood (Goodman & Brand, 2008). Research by Martins and Gaffan
(2000) suggests that insecure attachment patterns are more common in children of depressed
mothers than children of non-depressed mothers. Furthermore, insecure attachment style has
substantial implications for persistent issues in functioning not only during childhood but
throughout the entire lifespan (Martins & Gaffan, 2000). Since attachment is perhaps the
most vital relationship during a human life, it is crucial to help make this relationship a
Of the PPD interventions analyzed in a meta-analysis by Clatworthy (2012), the briefest
intervention was shown to positively impact PPD (Matthey, Kavanagh, Howie, Barnett, &
Charles, 2004), whereas the longest intervention analyzed did not show an effect (Buist,
Westley, & Hill, 1999). There is evidence to suggest that interventions based on
psychological models are more effective than purely educational material (Clatworthy, 2012).
Internet interventions, including the present course, have the advantages of being low cost
while reaching large audiences around the world.
Nonconsumable interventions, or reusable interventions, are predominately automated and can
be reused with minimal cost for each additional individual participant (Muñoz, 2010).
Nonconsumable interventions are important for reducing health disparities worldwide, as they
can be reused at low cost. The current Internet Intervention, which will aim to increase
compassion, is both non-consumable and firmly grounded in the principles of Dr. Paul
Gilbert's CFT. Additionally, the CFT condition will be compared to a CBT Internet
intervention to assess relative efficacy. The researchers will focus specifically on the
constructs of self-compassion, self-reassurance, self-attacking, depression, anxiety, and
Self-compassion involves an individual being both aware and open to the internal suffering
that one experiences (Neff, Hsieh, & Dejitterat, 2005), while keeping in mind that being
imperfect is a trait shared across all humans (Neff & Vonk, 2009; Neff, 2009). Samaie and
Farahani (2011) found that self-compassion served as a significant moderator between
rumination and stress, suggesting that higher levels of self-compassion can decrease the
relationship between rumination and stress (Samaie & Farahani, 2011). Also, self-compassion
has also been linked to one's ability to balance one's own needs and the needs of another in
a conflict situation (Yarnell & Neff, 2013). The cultivation of self-compassion has been
shown to improve quality of shared decision making in interpersonal relationships as well as
improve an individual's ability to balance her needs in a relationship with the needs of her
partner (Yarnell & Neff, 2013).
CFT, which has an aim to increase compassion, is a movement towards a more biopsychosocial
science of psychotherapy (Gilbert, 2010; Lawrence & Lee, 2013). It seeks to increase
systemic harmony and ability to cultivate compassion for others, receive compassion from
others, and direct compassion towards the self. This approach draws from social,
developmental, evolutionary and Buddhist psychology (Gilbert, 2009). CFT holds that
psychopathology manifests from unbalanced systems of affect regulation, such that the
threat-based system is activated disproportionately to the contentment, safety, and soothing
system. As such, this approach seeks to educate the participant about these systems and to
increase the contentment, safety, and soothing system activity in order to augment
compassion and well-being (Lawrence & Lee, 2013). Compassionate Mind Training (CMT) is the
intervention component from the principles of CFT (Gilbert & Procter, 2006).
A lack of stimulation in the contentment, soothing, and safety system may also have
physiological effects, particularly by inhibiting the production of oxytocin (Cree, 2010).
When maternal oxytocin is disregulated, the parent-child bonding process can be adversely
affected (Carter, 1998). Furthermore, irregularities in neuroendocrine activity related to
attachment, history of the parent, and social atmosphere can make the bonding process more
difficult (Carter, 2003). The use of CFT with a perinatal population has the ability to
stimulate the aforementioned systems, improve the mother's compassion, and positively impact
the attachment with her baby.
In a preliminary study, the researchers contacted participants from the UCSF Mothers and
Babies Internet Project (Barrera, Kelman, & Muñoz, 2014). The majority of respondents stated
they would be interested in learning how to be more compassionate (83% of English
participants; 94% of Spanish participants). Also, these women asserted that Internet-based
CMT would be useful to them (mean rating=7.41 out of 10).
The hypotheses of the current study are:
1. Following completion of the didactic portion of the course, participants will see
greater increases in self-reassurance and decreases in self-attacking and
self-criticizing in the CMT condition relative to the CBT condition.
2. Following completion of the didactic portion of the course, participants will see near
equivalent affect improvements in the CMT and CBT conditions.
3. Following completion of the entire course, participants will see greater increases in
self-compassion in the CMT condition relative to the CBT condition.
4. Following completion of the entire course, participants will see near equivalent
reductions in depression and anxiety in the CMT and CBT conditions.
- Participants in the present study will include women over the age of 18 who are
currently pregnant, pregnant within the last year, or endorse interest in becoming
pregnant in the future. Additional inclusion criteria include proficiency in English
and access to the Internet.
- Exclusion criteria consist of not having interest in becoming pregnant, being male,
or being under the age of 18.