What is Compassion-Focused Therapy?
What is compassion focused therapy?
Shame and self-criticism are common features across a range of conditions. Typically, people who feel a lot of shame and are very self-critical have experienced abusive, bullying or critical influences in their life. These experiences can become internalised and lead to unhelpful cycles of thoughts and behaviours that leave a person feeling “stuck”.
Self-compassion is an essential component of living a happy, healthy life. It helps us build greater resilience while understanding that all humans – ourselves included – are intrinsically deserving of care and compassion.
The aim of CFT is to promote healing by encouraging you to become more compassionate both towards yourself and others.
CFT model - how does it work?
CFT is a structured therapy so there will be a goal set for your treatment that will be agreed upon by both you and your therapist.
It’s also an experiential therapy so you won’t just be talking about things – you’ll be actively trying things out in your sessions. Because of this, there are also likely to be homework assignments in between your sessions too.
Similar to CBT, CFT looks at your thinking. But it also focuses on your emotions too. Both in terms of your experience of them and developing new ways to be with them. So you’ll be finding ways to feel differently, as well as to think differently.
CFT was developed based on our evolutionary and neurobiological understandings of human emotion regulation. Research has shown that humans have at least three different emotion regulation systems:
- A threat and self-protection system
- A reward and resource-seeking system
- A contentment and soothing system
In the modern world, we can end up spending a lot of time in threat (fear, anxiety) and reward (competition, achievement). So the focus of CFT is to bring balance to these three systems of emotion regulation.
In order to do this, we typically need to develop our soothing system. This system helps us cultivate more kindness towards ourselves and others whilst also helping us to develop greater self-awareness and providing us with the strength to stay with difficult situations and emotions.
Throughout the course of your therapy, the aim will be to help you develop what we refer to as a “compassionate mind”, ultimately leaving you with a greater sense of inner safety and compassion.
Frequently asked questions
You are likely to be offered CFT if we believe that self-criticism is playing a significant role in your difficulties. If, for example, you are struggling with not feeling “good enough”, being very hard on yourself or struggling to self-soothe and comfort yourself, then CFT can be especially helpful.
CFT is a more complex therapeutic approach than CBT. It lends itself to people who have struggled with how they feel about themselves for a long time. We will usually recommend it when we believe that a more compassionate way of relating to yourself is the key to overcoming your psychological difficulties. CFT can be especially helpful for recurrent depression and we will usually offer it when we believe that CBT will not be enough to address your difficulties.
CFT is a longer term therapeutic model. Generally speaking, it will last a minimum of 20 sessions but there is no specified length to this type of therapy. It will very much depend on the severity of your difficulties and how you are progressing through the therapy.