Compassion is recognizing suffering with the motivation to help.
Compassion Corps (CC) is comprised of a dedicated group of certified compassion teachers motivated to be of help in communities where human suffering is immediate and obvious.
Compassion Corps is committed to compassion in action.
Compassion Corps is committed to relieving the systemic suffering of vulnerable populations.
Compassion Corps is committed to ALL evidence-based compassion trainings, and endeavors to provide a platform where compassion trainers can unite for the greater good.
Compassion Corps is committed to supporting certified teachers of evidence-based compassion trainings.
Compassion Corps is committed to making service sustainable.
Compassion Corps is committed to creating upward spirals of compassion through sharing inspiring stories and mapping the spread of compassion.
Compassion Corps is committed to creating opportunities for meaningful service and philanthropy, where small contributions can have a large impact.
Compassion Corps is committed to meeting the unique reality of each community by allowing flexibility to modify programs as necessary and by inviting grantees to share best practices.
What is Compassion Corps?
Compassion Corps is an initiative to bring evidence-based compassion trainings to communities of need at no cost to participants. Through Compassion Corps, any certified teacher can apply for a modest grant (generally ranging from $1,000-$2,000) to pay for their teaching time and expertise to support the community in which they’re working. Certified teachers offer the full 8-week program of either Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT), or Compassion-Based Cognitive Training (CBCT) to approximately 20 people.
Compassion Corps is a simple idea, but is innovative for a number of reasons. First, it builds on teachers’ existing connections or affiliations with communities. It honors the science behind each training, the rigorous certification program of the trainer, and widens the reach of these compassion trainings beyond a limited audience which skews toward the privileged. CC also has the potential to “turbo-charge” the spread of compassion. The stories of each grant inspire prosociality and compassion among, not only the participants, but also the trainers, and all whom they may touch. Each program has the potential to not only influence those who are directly affected, but an ever-expanding network of compassion and generosity. This is exactly what has been happening with the inaugural grants.
What is the History of CC?
Compassion Corps was initiated in late 2016 by Margaret Cullen, Founding Faculty of the Compassion Institute (CI). As one of the original contributors to the Compassion Cultivation Training at Stanford University Medical School, Margaret had the opportunity to train all the instructors of CCT and get to know them personally. This is a group that is highly motivated by service. The 8-week training itself is a luxury and often inaccessible to communities of need, as the average price is $400. With the wish to support certified teachers, broaden the reach of compassion training, and create an upward spiral of compassion, Margaret proposed the idea of creating Compassion Corps.
The idea for CC came from 30 years of working as a therapist at The Wellness Community (TWC). TWC (now Cancer Support Community) is a free program of psycho-social support for cancer patients and their families. The founder, Harold Benjamin, was a visionary and had the radical idea that the clinical staff should all be paid licensed professionals, while the programs should all be completely free of charge. After 30 years it was apparent that there was absolutely no burnout, in spite of the fact that these highly trained and licensed professionals were making considerably less than they could in private practice and facing profound suffering on a weekly basis. Harold had figured out a brilliant recipe: combine one part free programs (service and right-livelihood), one part pay professional fees (avoid the burnout and resentment from volunteerism, honor professional training), one part service to communities where suffering is great and support is needed (meaningful, fulfilling work), and one part philanthropy (pay clinicians less than the usual fees).
Deep gratitude to The CI for supporting the launch of CC and for funding grants through 2020. In 2021, Margaret decided to continue the work of CC and expand its reach to all compassion programs. To accoplish this, she committed to donate all her income to CC grants, creating ever more spirals of compassion as her students become sponsors of grants by just signing up for a class.
What are Communities of Need?
Compassion Corps exists to broaden the accessibility of compassion trainings (CT’s), specifically to those who would not otherwise be able to afford to participate.
Occasionally, a community of need may be defined by a characteristic other than financial need. These individuals may be particularly susceptible to burnout and emotionally challenging experiences in their daily lives. For example, Arkansas-based teacher Dent Gitchel was granted Compassion Corps funds to teach CCT to social activists working on the front lines of the national elections in Arkansas and Adam Burn offered CCT to staff and family members at NAMI (National Association of Mental Illness).
Perhaps most importantly, in the application for a Compassion Corps grant, a teacher must identify not only a community of need, but one in which they already have a personal connection. It doesn’t work to “parachute” into a community to teach compassion. In addition to a license to teach, grantees must demonstrate a degree of cultural sensitivity towards, and understanding of, the communities they wish to serve.
What Does the Science Suggest?
Compassion Corps is informed by research that supports the potential for compassion programs to inspire the “viral” spread of compassion. In 2010, James Fowler and Nicolas Christakis published an important article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrating how cooperative behavior cascades in human networks, and specifically how it can spread to people who were not part of the original interaction (i.e. watching a video about a program on this website!).
In 2020, Sara Algoe et al published a similar paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology about the power of the “witnessing effect”. They demonstrated that third parties felt gratitude simply by witnessing an act of generosity towards another person that didn’t involve them directly.
In 2020, Haesung Jung et al published a meta analysis of extant research on prosocial modeling in the Psychological Bulletin demonstrating that, across 88 studies in two decades, the prosocial modeling effect generalized across different types of helping behaviors, different targets in need of help, and was robust to experimenter bias.