What is Compassion Focused Therapy?

What is Compassion Focused Therapy?

Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) was developed by Professor Paul Gilbert, and it is a therapy model that aims to help people regulate their mood and develop a greater sense of compassion towards themselves (and others).

Perhaps you notice you feel guilty a lot of the time, even when you haven’t done anything really bad? Or experience a lot of self-critical thoughts, compare yourself to others, and feel inadequate/lesser than in comparison? If any of this sounds familiar, then CFT might be an approach you could find helpful.

What does Compassion mean?

You will likely have heard the word compassion mentioned before, but it does sometimes have some common misinterpretations…some believe being compassionate towards oneself means making “excuses” for our perceived failures rather than doing better. Others have referred to it as something “fluffy” or similar lines…

However, it isn’t about making excuses! A commonly accepted definition of compassion is:

To understand one’s suffering and struggles and to be committed to alleviating this suffering or struggle.

So, in essence, to be compassionate is to try to be curious rather than judge ourselves when something doesn’t feel right, understand where it might be coming from and then do something about this. So, it still drives us forward to some sort of change. This might be a change in our external environment if we are engaged in activities or relationships that are not good for our wellbeing; or internally, for example if we are beating ourselves up over something that actually wasn’t our fault.

Why do we sometimes lack self-compassion?

We humans have a real habit of biased comparisons – we look at all the good stuff in others and compare it to all the bad stuff in ourselves!

In cavemen times there were all sorts of physical dangers, so we have been primed to be on ‘high alert’ and think negatively – this kept us safe once upon a time…however these days a lot of our ‘threats’ are social threats or perceived threats, and our emotions have become a lot more complex as we have evolved – guilt and shame for instance are very ‘social’ emotions that developed much later than the 5 or 6 basic emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, joy and so on; and these social emotions often fuel our inner critics.

So how can CFT help?

CFT sessions typically incorporate a range of theory and techniques including the following:

  • Understanding how the brain works and what happens to our thinking when we feel anxious, low, guilty or shameful.
  • Understanding our inner critic better – where might it have come from, what does it have to say and why?
  • Developing our soothe and drive systems to help us manage our threat system – this may be through developing greater ability to be mindful, and other emotional regulation strategies; alongside engaging in activities that bring us a sense of achievement.
  • Strategies to strengthen our compassionate mind and reduce the power of the inner critic when it arises.

If you like the sound of the above, and think it might be helpful to you, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with professional services to help you think about next steps. Typically, you will start with an assessment to understand your needs better and agree together whether this is the right approach for you and what to expect in sessions.

Written by: Dr Gurveen Ranger
Clinical Psychologist at Sage Clinics

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