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Types of Therapy: Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)

Compassion focused therapy (CFT) is a relatively new therapeutic approach that was developed by Paul Gilbert. Buddhist psychology has a long tradition of compassion focused approaches which has greatly inspired the development of CFT.

The main aims of CFT are to promote mental and emotional healing by encouraging individuals in treatment to be compassionate toward both themselves and others. Compassion involves empathy which is an essential aspect of emotional well-being. Being able to understand others, as well as their own feelings, and also being accepting, caring, and kindly tolerant of your own distress as well as in others are all important in everyday relationships.

People who often experience shame and self-criticism are quite likely to struggle to feel relief, reassurance, safeness and well-being. These feelings (relief, reassurance, safeness and well-being) are believed to have evolved with the ability to acknowledge and respond with calming and a sense of well-being to be cared for. It is suggested that people who have high shame and self-criticism have a dominate ‘threat’ affect regulation system, making inner and outer worlds seem overwhelming.  CFT teaches that anxiety, anger and depression are all natural and should not be viewed as ‘our own fault.’ CFT has been found to help improve symptoms in mental illnesses such as with depression, anxiety and OCD.

Compassionate mind training consists of the individual engaging in a series of exercises to detect self-criticism and then refocus compassionately by creating and practising feelings and thoughts that are more positive, kind, supportive and encouraging. The role of the therapist is also to help the individual experience safeness in their interactions with them, to tolerate and feel safe with what is explored in the therapy, and to replace self-criticism with self-kindness.

The internal compassionate relationship learned by the individual through the therapy replaces the blaming, condemning and self-critical relationship, that were dominant before. Some people develop this relationship within a few sessions, while others may take ten or more sessions to overcome resistance to positive feelings.

Here are some examples of what can be learnt at CFT:

  • Appreciation exercises: Can include making a list of likes, taking time to embrace a moment when something enjoyable is noticed, along with other positive behaviours while learning to focus on things the individual enjoys.
  • Mindfulness: Consists of learning to pay attention to and focus on the current moment in a non-judgmental manner.
  • Compassion-focused imagery exercises: With the use of guided memories to first engage the mind and then the physiological systems, the goal being to produce a relational image that engages a soothing system.

More information on CFT:

Good Therapy:

Introducing Compassion Focused Therapy: