Leading psychologists urge government to make “compassion therapy” part of school catch-up plan
Forty of the country’s leading psychologists have written to the government urging them to offer compassion training and therapy to pupils and teachers as part of the education “catch-up” plan (see full letter below).
The letter states that there are “innumerable mental challenges to be navigated if we are to bring children and teachers back into a school environment and ensure that their education has not and will not suffer because of Covid.”
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The psychologists warn that these include enhanced rates of anxiety and depression amongst pupils and teachers, increased social anxiety, and what they describe as “long-term Covid trauma”: difficulties readjusting after year of turmoil and upset.
The authors warn that any attempts to “catch-up” on lost learning will be wasted if the government does not first help pupils and their teachers to protect and improve their mental wellbeing.
They argue that compassion training offers one of the best ways to do that because it is proven to help address depression, anxiety, and stress, overcome trauma, improve resilience, and increase overall levels of happiness.
The letter, which has been signed by figures such as Professor Helen Cowie of Surrey University, founder of the Compassionate Mind Foundation Professor Paul Gilbert, and by Co-Director of the think-tank Compassion in Politics Matt Hawkins, concludes:
“As a community of psychologists we want to work with you to ensure that this generation’s children - and teachers - are provided with the mental tools to overcome stress and trauma and flourish in the post-Covid society. We would therefore be very keen to discuss with you our recommendations at your earliest available opportunity.”
 Letter in full with signatures:
Dear Sir Kevan Collins,
As part of the Education Recovery plan we the undersigned urge you to provide primary and secondary school children and their teachers with compassion-based training and coaching.
The prime minister was right to acknowledge that school pupils have experienced enormous stress, pressure, and disruption as a result of the Coronavirus: the number of 5-16 year olds reporting mental health problems had risen from 10% in 2017 to 16% by July 2020  and 1 in 5 (18%) of children with mental health concerns are now fearful of leaving their homes .
Neither has that stress been limited to pupils: more than half of teachers reported to Education Support that their mental health has declined as a result of Covid .
In addition, both teachers and children may be susceptible to long-term Covid trauma. Many individuals, especially those with underlying anxiety and depression, will find it very hard to readjust to “post-Covid” living. They may fear interacting with others, struggle to re-socialise, or be very resistant to change.
There are therefore innumerable mental challenges to be navigated if we are to bring children and teachers back into a school environment and ensure that their education has not and will not suffer because of Covid.
That is why we believe the government should provide pupils and teachers with compassion-focused training. Compassion training brings benefits to participants across each of the problem areas associated with the psychological strain of Covid:
- A metanalysis of the data on compassion training found that it is effective in helping address depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as increasing individuals’ levels of compassion, mindfulness, and well-being ;
- Compassion training can change the brain’s neurophysiology and in so doing help to overcome trauma and improve resilience ;
- A randomised control trial found that compassion training can increase overall happiness ;
- Training in compassion and empathy has been shown to improve interpersonal relations and help overcome conflict ;
- A trial of Compassionate Mind Training in schools has shown that it is effective in increasing teacher's self-compassion and decreasing their self-criticism .
We acknowledge that the government instituted the Wellbeing for Education Return programme in the summer 2020 but we believe a more systematic and targeted approach is now needed.
As a community of psychologists we want to work with you to ensure that this generation’s children - and teachers - are provided with the mental tools to overcome stress and trauma and flourish in the post-Covid society. We would therefore be very keen to discuss with you our recommendations at your earliest available opportunity.
With kind regards,
Matt Hawkins, Co-Director, Compassion in Politics
Professor Paul Gilbert, Clinical Psychologist, University of Derby, and Founder of the Compassionate Mind Foundation
Professor Peter K. Smith, Emeritus Professor, Goldsmiths, University of London
Professor Helen Cowie, University of Surrey
Santanu Vasant, Head of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, University of East London
Dr Sarah Parry, Principal Clinical Psychologist and Practice Fellow in Clinical Psychology, Manchester Metropolitan University
Dr Frances Maratos, Associate Professor, School of Psychology, University of Derby
Dr Julian Abel, Director, Compassionate Communities UK
Kathryn Waddington, Reader in Psychology, University of Westminster
Dr Elaine Beaumont, Lecturer and Psychotherapist, University of Salford
Dr Diahann Gallard, Senior Lecturer/Programme Leader – Doctor of Education programme, Liverpool John Moores University
Dr Theo Gilbert, Associate Professor, Learning and Teaching, University of Hertfordshire
Professor Louise Lawrence, Co-Head of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter
Dr Angela Kennedy, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Dr Martina Balaam, Senior Teaching Fellow, University of Edinburgh
Dr Amanda Super, Chartered Occupational Psychologist
Jonathan Leighton, Executive Director, Organisation for the Prevention of Intense Suffering
Dr Brett Grellier, Director and Consultant Counselling Psychologist
Dr Natalie Southall, psychologist
Dr Naeema Hann, Leeds Beckett University
Sarah Ellen O'Farrell, Lead Inventor at ?What If! Innovation Partners
Kevin Brazant, Lecturer, Social Work, London Metropolitan University
Parissa Sexton, social worker and psychotherapist
Matthew Le Mare, Senior Music Therapist, University of Derby
Viji Jayasundara, University of Hertfordshire
Julie Hurst, psychologist, Work Life Balance Centre
Deborah Sharp, University of Hertfordshire
Dr Carole Francis-Smith, Chartered Counselling Psychologist in Private Practice
Dr Rachel George, University of Greenwich
Jonathan Reid, Senior Lecturer in Child Development, Special Educational Needs/Disabilities and Inclusion
James N. Kirby, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Queensland
Professor Colin Diamond CBE, Professor of Educational Leadership
University of Birmingham, and Chair of the Compassionate Education Foundation
Ann Petit, Senior Lecturer, Anglia Ruskin University
Dr Tim Chapman, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust
Dr Benjamin Brew, specialist clinical psychologist, Northern Health and Social Care Trust, Northern Ireland
Dr Carol Plummer, Educational and Child Psychologist, 360 Psychology Limited.
Dr Dawn Menzies, Educational and Child Psychologist, Aspects Psychology.
Dr Julia Frearson, Clinical Psychologist, Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust
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