Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programmes have demonstrated beneficial outcomes in a variety of populations. Self-compassion and empathy have theoretical connections to mindfulness, the key element of the MBSR programme; however, previous studies examining the programme's impact on self-compassion or empathy have demonstrated mixed results. This study examined the impact of MBSR on self-compassion and empathy, as well as on mindfulness, symptoms of stress, mood disturbance and spirituality in a community sample. Significant reductions in symptoms of stress and mood disturbance, as well as increases in mindfulness, spirituality and self-compassion were observed after programme participation. With regards to empathy, a significant increase was seen in perspective taking and a significant decrease in personal distress; no significant change was observed for empathic concern. Changes in self-compassion were predicted by changes in mindfulness. Self-compassion and aspects of empathy revealed strong associations with psychological functioning. Implications of MBSR as an intervention for enhancing self-compassion and empathy are discussed. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.