Voice of the Expert.

Zev Schuman-Olivier

Zev Schuman-Olivier, MD is the Director of the CHA Center for Mindfulness and Compassion, Medical Director for Addiction Services as well as Director of Addiction Residency Education and Mindful Mental Health Service at CHA. Dr. Schuman-Oliver is faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a faculty member in the Department of Biomedical Data Sciences at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. As a board-certified addiction psychiatrist, he has been involved with research and clinical care of patients with addiction, mental illness, and chronic pain both in mental health and primary care settings. He is a founding member of the Mindfulness Research Collaborative and is part of the NIH Science of Behavior Change Initiative. He is the principal investigator of the MINDFUL-PC project, which is leading the way in integrating mindfulness into the patient-centered medical home. He is Director of the Clinical Core for the NCCIH program project grant on synergistic approaches to chronic pain treatment. Finally, he led the development of the MySafeRx integrated technology platform and has been studying the impact of compassionate, motivational mobile recovery coaching and remote daily supervised medication dosing on medication adherence during opioid use disorder treatment.

If we create a habit of self-compassion, especially in those moments that we’re really suffering, where we’re vulnerable, it gives us an alternative habit to turn towards, which is this habit of caring for ourselves and being kind toward ourselves. And so, I think it takes time to develop that. In a program like MSC where you’re focusing on that and doing that again and again, it really is going to help to cultivate and develop those habits.

 I think many of the mindfulness-based interventions do that as well but it’s not necessarily as explicit. And for those people like me who had very strong senses of self that were focused on trying to—that were not kind to themselves—it was hard to have the right view, so to speak as I was practicing. And I think that MSC, by explicitly focusing on that [being kind to oneself] helps you to see to what extent you are approaching this from this right view, this kinder view of oneself. 
I know that you’re working with therapists in psychodynamics, and in my training on addictions, one of the things that I learned from a psychodynamic perspective is that one of the goals of the therapist, with addiction or with behavior change, is to be able to stay equidistant from ego and the super ego. So it’s like you have this being a triangle. And in any kind of change, there generally is a triadic relationship between them—you could call it id or some part that’s really full of wanting, desire, appetitive urges. You have another part of what you might call super ego, or one might call criticism or moral shame or whatever is trying to restrain the appetitive behavior. And then you have at the top, you call it ego or it’s any piece that’s really involved with trying to manage this conflict between those two. 

And as a therapist, it’s important to be able to stay equidistant. And what that means is that you’re not siding with any one of those parts of a person’s self that are driving or caught up in the cycle of addiction or habitual behavior. And, so for me, that was actually difficult to do because I had strong feelings in these different triunes and would find myself often wanting to side with one or the other of those aspects of a person’s self in the way that they’ve constructed around this behavior. And so, I actually find that self-compassion and compassion in general, that kind of ability to warmly be with what one’s experiencing really helps me as a therapist to be able to sit with people without getting caught up or drawn into any of those three aspects. And sometimes there’s more. But generally, they are forming into some kind of triadic relationship around change. And I do find that self-compassion helps me to be able to sit there in the middle and calmly and warmly be with all the parts of the client that I’m working with in a way that then allows them to develop that capacity to do that as well, and then be able to heal from within and find their way out of the addictive behavior.

Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy?

Over the past 15 years, research has established that self-compassion is a key ingredient in mental health and psychological wellbeing.

Compassion-based psychotherapy has also been shown to alleviate a wide range of psychological disorders, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance dependency. Self-compassion also appears to be an underlying mechanism by which other kinds of therapy seem to work. As a result, psychotherapists and other healthcare professionals are eager to integrate self-compassion more fully into their clinical work.

Program Prerequisites

Admission is by application, and all applicants must:

Have attended the full Mindful Self-Compassion program (8 Week or 5-Day Intensive format, in-person or online prior to starting the program). In order to establish a firm foundation of immersion in self-compassion and personal practice, this is a firm requirement for entry into the Certification program.
I haven’t taken the course yet, how can I attend?

Be a licensed or supervised mental health professional with active liability insurance. Psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, licensed mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, are invited to apply, as are students enrolled in a graduate psychotherapy training program. Other professionals will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Participants are expected to commit themselves to daily meditation practice for the duration of the course. This is essential for the understanding of how meditation practice works and its application in psychotherapy and caregiving.

The online “live” program will meet weekly on Wednesdays, beginning October 19, 2022, with a break in the month of December. Attendance at 80% of the sessions is required to formally complete the course.

Cohort Three Important Dates*

Two-day opening retreat Saturday/Sunday, October 15-16, 2022 from 7:00 am – 12:00 pm Pacific Time
The program starts on Wednesday, October 19, 2022, at 8:00 am Pacific Time
The weekly live meetings, every Wednesday from 8:00 – 11:30 am Pacific Time, until June 21, 2023
December Break December 1, 2022 – January 3, 2023
Two-day closing retreat Saturday/Sunday, June 24-25, 2023 from 7:00 am – 12:00 pm Pacific Time
*In addition to the above sessions, participants can expect to invest approximately five hours per week of reading, discussion board participation, and individual practice.
Download the Cohort 3 Course Outline with full calendar and objective details.

Frequently Asked Questions

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