What is Compassion-Focused Therapy?


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Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) entails adding compassion-training techniques into psychotherapy to promote altruistic thought patterns. This approach to treatment emphasizes the value of compassion and self-empathy in interactions with others and oneself. Buddhism is the originator of CFT, as it highlights the influence of understanding on others and one’s pleasure.

Through mindfulness-based activities, CFT clients develop the capacity to experience self-compassion and empathy for others. CFT, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), applies methods that promote acceptance and self-respect to boost self-esteem and positive emotions. CFT is ideal for anyone battling negative thoughts, melancholy, or anxiety to combat self-criticism and humiliation.

Who Developed Compassion-Focused Therapy?

Clinical psychologist Paul Raymond Gilbert developed the technique. It is an integrated therapy since it employs techniques from various psychotherapies. In addition, it uses Buddhist, neuro-scientific, and evolutionary studies and methods. 

Paul Raymond Gilbert observed that many of his clients suffered from excessive self-criticism and shame. He discovered that cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT) alone was not effective. Patients did not feel significantly better, although they understood their thought processes and how these influenced their behavior better. This pushed Paul Raymond to develop an alternative therapy to help the patients. 

Gilbert noticed that they required self-soothing tools as well. As a result, he devised compassion-focused therapy, a method for inducing a positive emotional reaction in persons with low self-esteem. The treatment can be used alone, but combined with other types of treatment to provide additional support.

What is CFT Used For?

Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT) assists persons who suffer from shame and self-criticism due to trauma or neglect as a child. CFT helps clients to cultivate compassion and self-compassion, which can assist with mood regulation and lead to emotions of safety, self-acceptance, and comfort. It also plays a fundamental role in boosting a patient’s self-esteem by learning to appreciate themselves. 

CFT has effectively treated long-term emotional problems and conditions. These conditions may include anxiety disorders, mood disorders, or personality disorders that significantly contribute to health-related issues. People have at least three different emotion regulation systems. In part, mental illness can be partially caused by an imbalance between these emotion regulation systems. 

For example, individuals with high levels of guilt and self-criticism may have had their soothing system exposed to inadequate stimulation. In addition, they may have exposed their danger system excessively at a tender age. 

Some people find it hard to be kind to themselves or receive kindness from others. As a result, they are susceptible to criticism and rejection, whether genuine or perceived, and at most times absorb it. CFT restores this imbalance in the systems regulating emotions. 

Compassion-Based Therapy and the Three “Affect Systems”

The CFT approach is founded on three emotion regulation systems. Each emotion regulation system serves a beneficial and vital purpose.

The three systems include:

  • Danger and Self-Defense: The urge for survival drives this mechanism. Fear, worry, and fury motivate us to take action. In excess, however, they can lead to negative thought processes, such as generalizing, overplanning, and considering the worst-case situation.
  • Motivation and Excitement: This system is founded on the pursuit of resources to satisfy our wants or requirements. Examples include money and love. It is driven by anticipation and the desire for pleasure, but excessive amounts may result in unsafe or reckless behavior.
  • Relaxing and Social Security: It is activated when one feels peaceful, pleased, or at peace. In other words, when neither of the other two systems is operational. It involves a sense of social connection, support, care, and safety. It also promotes empathy, kindness, and resilience, all characteristics of self-compassion.

According to CFT, these three systems are always connected and operational. First, they influence our emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Second, our surroundings dictate how we utilize the system. CFT seeks to balance the first two, which can occasionally dominate and negatively influence our health. 

Additionally, CFT tries to improve the soothing and safety system, which is frequently overlooked. Therefore, one can achieve inner peace with our thoughts and ourselves.

Techniques of Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT)

Compassion-focused therapy’s principal therapy method is compassionate mind training (CMT). CMT refers to the tactics commonly employed to assist persons in experiencing compassion and cultivating various characteristics of compassion for one’s self and others. 

CMT attempts to promote features such as motivation, empathy, discomfort, tolerance, and sensitivity. This is done through training and guided exercises to help individuals develop nonjudgmental and non-condemning features.

Patients in therapy may discover:

  • Exercises or activities that emphasize the things that a person appreciates. These activities involve compiling a list of likes, savoring the time one observes something pleasurable, and other rewarding behaviors. 
  • Presence of mind, or the ability to give nonjudgmental attention to the present moment.
  • The cognitive and physiological systems are aroused through compassionate imaging exercises or guided recollections and fantasies. The purpose of activities in compassionate imagery is to cultivate a relational image that stimulates the calming system.

When people struggle with sentiments of self-aggression, the therapist can support them in investigating the functions and possible sources of these feelings. As well as why individuals may accept or submit to them. 

This method involves visualizing the self-destructive element as a person. For example, to better comprehend self-criticism, individuals in therapy are asked to describe the appearance of the “person” and the emotions it elicits. They are then counseled on how to handle the negative to improve their well-being. 

Those who have trouble experiencing or expressing compassion may be given questions. These questions are designed to help them identify and overcome any reasons that may stop them from expressing sympathy.

Get Therapy with Steps for Change

A therapist can assist you in significantly improving your self-criticism to acquire an optimistic outlook on life. Through this type of therapy, patients can learn new coping skills to manage their mental health. 

Steps for Change offers quality and effective compassion-focused therapy; do not hesitate to contact us to schedule an appointment. We will gladly assist you in connecting with the therapist on our team that is the perfect fit for your requirements. You can call (952)522-1838 or submit the contact form.