The MWS Podcast: Episode 12, Paul Gilbert

In this episode Paul Gilbert, a clinical psychologist and author of the Compassionate Mind talks to us about compassion and how he came to develop Compassion Focused Therapy. Among the topics discussed are its practical applications, Jungian archetypes, the role of values, the Middle Way, mindfulness and the complexity of forgiveness.

For a brief overview of Compassion Focused Therapy see the following paper. If you would like to find out more about Paul’s work, his books, Compassionate Mind Training etc follow this link to the Compassionate Mind Foundation.


MWS Podcast 12: Paul Gilbert as audio only:
Download audio: MWS_Podcast_12_Paul_Gilbert

Previous podcasts:

Episode 11: Monica Garvey on Family Mediation
Episode 10: Emilie Åberg on horticultural therapy, agnosticism, the Quakers and awe.
Episode 9: T’ai Chi instructor John Bolwell gives an overview of this popular martial art.
Episode 8: Peter Goble on his career as a nurse and his work as a Buddhist Chaplain.
Episode 7: The author Stephen Batchelor on his work with photography and collage.
Episode 6: Iain McGilchrist, author of the Master and his Emissary.
Episode 5: Julian Adkins on introducing MWP to his meditation group in Edinburgh
Episode 4: Daren Dewitt on Nonviolent communiction.
Episode 3: Vidyamala Burch on her new book “Mindfulness for Health”.
Episode 2: Norma Smith on why she joined the society, art, agnosticism and metaphor.
Episode 1 : Robert M. Ellis on the skill of critical thinking.

About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

2 thoughts on “The MWS Podcast: Episode 12, Paul Gilbert

  1. Thanks for a very interesting podcast, Barry. It did leave me feeling that Paul Gilbert’s work is definitely worth closer investigation. His ideas on the way the three systems interact could help me to reach a better understanding of the way in which the integrative process works.

    On both the fact-value distinction and on the Middle Way, I did get the impression that there was a basic congruence with his views with my own, even though he was accustomed to expressing those points in very different ways from the way I put them. But to understand the same basic insights in very different ways is a promising starting point for a creative dialectic.

    However, I also felt that he was evasive towards the end. He didn’t really answer your question about whether the soothing system could be over-stimulated, but rather said that it was an ethical issue, presumably with the relativist implication that it wasn’t his business to try to answer an ethical question, and that objectivity could not be reached on such a question but rather it was a matter of individual choice. It would take a brave academic psychologist to cross that line between facts and values in practice, even if he recognised their interdependence in theory, so it doesn’t really surprise me that he didn’t do so.

    What strikes me as a more promising line of thinking would be that balance needs to be maintained between all three systems, that these are all ‘rational’ systems as well as ’emotional’ systems, and that maintaining that balance is a matter of incremental moral objectivity as well as just a practical adjustment. In an email discussion, Julian suggested to me that overstimulus of the soothing system is not a problem for anyone in practice, and that what we might take to be overstimulus of the soothing system could also be understood as under-stimulus of the other systems. That may or may not be the case, but that wouldn’t alter the basic point that it could be a major limitation (or at least an asymmetry) in someone’s integration if they did have a big imbalance between the systems, including too much of an imbalance in favour of the soothing system. The example of assassinating Hitler seems useful here. Someone whose soothing system was too strong in proportion to the other systems would just not be able to do what was required in the circumstances. A capacity for compassion is thus an aspect of objectivity, but it needs – as Buddhism traditionally suggests – wisdom to go with it, and sometimes to override it.

    Another example would be the mother of a mafia family. She could be a deeply compassionate person, taking a close interest in every member of her family as well as herself, giving constantly and holding the family together in the event of quarrels. But by doing this she could just be having the effect of helping mafia criminality and corruption to be successful. Without a decisive and insightful ethical perspective and a capacity for tough decisions, we can hardly say that a person who is only compassionate is integrated beyond a certain limited point.

    However, it may be that Gilbert has other ways of addressing this point, and I wouldn’t want to over-emphasise it. Gilbert did come across as a humane thinker with a compassionate mission, as having much to offer people from the practical perspective of integrative practice, and also as having much wisdom of his own.

    1. Hi Robert
      I think if you get the chance to explore Paul’s work in more detail, my feeling is you would indeed find plenty of things in common with your own work. To my mind the organising or regulation of the resource seeking and threat systems by the soothing system provides another very useful heuristic model for working towards a more integrated state of being. Although, as you pointed out, you appear to approach certain topics from markedly different angles and you personally harbour certain reservations with his views, especially in regard to the idea of overstimulating the soothing system and to ethics, I think there is a lot of common ground to, as you say, provide a starting point for a potentially really fruitful dialectic between both your approaches. His book “The Compassionate Mind” made a big impression on me as I find the basic ideas in it very much in line with Migglism and for that reason would highly recommend it. In addition, I think you, Paul and the society would all benefit if you were able to enter into some kind of dialogue together.

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