Arts-Based Compassion Skills Training (ABCST): Channelling compassion focused therapy through visual arts for Australia’s Indigenous peoples

James Bennett-Levy, Natalie Roxburgh, Lia Hibner, Sunita Bala, Stacey Edwards, Kate Lucre, Georgina Cohen, Dwayne O’Connor, Sharmaine Keogh, Paul Gilbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The last 20 years have seen the development of a new form of therapy, compassion focused therapy (CFT). Although CFT has a growing evidence base, there have been few studies of CFT outside of an Anglo-European cultural context. In this paper, we ask: Might a CFT-based approach be of value for Indigenous Australians? If so, what kind of cultural adaptations might be needed? We report the findings from a pilot study of an arts-based compassion skills training (ABCST) group, in which usual CFT group processes were significantly adapted to meet the needs of Indigenous Australians. At face value, CFT appeared to be a promising approach to enhancing the social and emotional wellbeing of Australia’s Indigenous peoples. However, despite initial consultations with Indigenous health professionals, the first attempts to offer a more conventional group-based CFT to Indigenous clients were largely unsuccessful. Following a review and advice from two Indigenous clients, we combined elements of CFT with visual arts to develop a new approach, “arts-based compassion skills training” (ABCST). This paper reports an evaluation of this pilot ABCST group. The group had 6 × 4 h sessions of ABCST, facilitated by two psychologists (1 Indigenous, 1 non-Indigenous) and two artists (1 Indigenous, 1 non-Indigenous). There were 10 participants, who attended between 2 and 6 sessions: five were clients, five were health professionals. Between 1 and 3 months later, six of the participants (2 clients, 4 health professionals) were interviewed. Qualitative analysis of interview data identified that two key processes—creating a positive group atmosphere and channeling compassion skills training through the medium of visual arts—led to four positive outcomes for participants: planting the seeds of new understandings, embodying the skills of compassion, strengthening relationships with others, and evolving a more self-compassionate relationship. We suggest that the preliminary results are sufficiently encouraging to warrant further development of ABCST in Indigenous communities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number568561
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Arts-Based Compassion Skills Training (ABCST): Channelling compassion focused therapy through visual arts for Australia’s Indigenous peoples'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this