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Research & Studies

Compassion Focused Therapy and the Body: How Physiological Underpinnings of Prosociality Inform Clinical Practice

Citation (APA style): Petrocchi, N., Di Bello, M., & Cheli, S., & Ottaviani, C. (2022). Compassion focused therapy and the body: How physiological underpinnings of prosociality inform clinical practice. In P. Gilbert & G. Simos (Eds.), Compassion focused therapy: Clinical practice and applications (Ch. 10). Routledge.


From birth, social relationships have emotional and self-regulating properties that operate through different body systems. This chapter explores how heart rate variability (HRV), an index of the parasympathetic regulation of the heart (via the vagus nerve), is a central element of the physiological underpinnings of sociality and mental health, with important implications for the clinical practice of compassion focused therapy. HRV is associated with the experience of inter- and intrapersonal safeness, and the inhibitory function of the prefrontal cortex linked to prosocial motives, such as compassion. However, a modern neurovisceral integration perspective suggests that HRV is also a biomarker of the functioning of a set of neural structures through which the brain regulates visceromotor, neuroendocrine, and behavioral responses that are critical for psychophysiological adaptability. This chapter reviews the main body-based practices (including breathing, yoga, nutrition, and supplements) that can be used in compassion-focused interventions to facilitate the emergence of safeness and, via increased vagal regulation, promote clinical change. [The chapter also includes acupoint tapping.]


social relationships, heart rate variability, compassion focused therapy