Comment: what is compassion focused therapy?

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Pictures on my whiteboard that bring me daily cheer.

I mentioned recently in comments that I’d been studying something called compassion focused therapy (CFT) for the past year.

This type of therapy was devised by Professor Paul Gilbert who is based in the UK. It aims to harness the power of developing compassion towards ourselves and other people in order to develop a healthier balance of feelings and behaviours.

You may have heard of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a practice which encourages people to challenge difficult thoughts. The theory is that by changing damaging behaviour we can change our thoughts to more positive ones, which in turn promotes healthier behaviour – completing a ‘virtuous circle’.

The NHS has invested a lot in CBT as there is a lot of medical evidence to support just how effective it can be in managing common psychological problems. You can read more about this kind of therapy on the NHS Choices website.

CBT is known to help with conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and eating disorders. However, it doesn’t work for every person with these diagnoses. The reason might be that, for some people, difficult emotions are so deeply ingrained with problematic thoughts or behaviours that CBT is not as effective.

This is where compassion focused therapy comes in. CFT is based on a different kind of model which is the interplay of three basic psychological systems. Each system can affect the other and there is a constant interplay between the three systems.

  • Threat – the way we respond to people or events that we find troubling – traditionally explained as ‘fight or flight’ responses.
  • Drive – this reflects our motivation to act, at a basic level we need our drive to take care of ourselves and any dependents.
  • Soothing – developing self-compassion is a powerful tool in helping people to comfort themselves when times are hard.

This is just a general outline of compassion focused therapy. You can get a fuller picture of how CFT works on the Compassionate Mind website.

The approach also incorporated mindfulness practices which help to ground the body and mind. These might include breathing exercises as well as developing a greater aware of the moment that we are in.

I believe that CFT has a lot to offer people who have experienced psychological distress, but developing self-compassion and compassion for others can benefit anybody.

If this is something that interested in I strongly suggest that you refer to the websites I have highlighted in this piece.

 

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