What is Compassion Focused Therapy?

Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) was developed for people with a range of difficulties (including anxiety, depression, trauma and personality difficulties) who are typically highly self critical (prone to judging and evaluating themselves negatively) and prone to strong feelings of shame and self-dislike. CFT builds on cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and other therapies and interventions. Compassion Focused Therapy has been developed by Professor Paul Gilbert and colleagues in the UK and Dr Chris Germer and Dr Kristen Neff amongst others in the US.

Feeling cared for and accepted (by both others and ourselves) is fundamental to our wellbeing. However, frequently we sacrifice this and focus all too often on achievement, to the detriment of our mental health. This is typically reinforced in our competitive society. There is of course nothing wrong with having goals and wanting to do well for ourselves but if we are always striving to ‘do better’ and ‘achieve’ it can come at a cost. We can put a huge amount of pressure and stress on ourselves that can be impossible to sustain and all too often what we do never feels good enough and thus we never truly feel good about ourselves. For some people this can trigger self-criticism and elicit feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, anger and depression.

CFT can help us stop judging and evaluating ourselves altogether, to stop labelling ourselves as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and learn to accept ourselves with kindness, caring and compassion. There are compassionate and non-compassionate ways of relating to ourselves and others, especially in times of distress and this can have a huge effect on our mental health. CFT is not about ignoring how we feel, amplifying feelings of sadness for ourselves or trying to ‘soothe it away’ but rather is a way of engaging with what is difficult in our lives and treating ourselves with care and understanding rather than harsh judgement.

Undertaking CFT can help you gain a greater understanding of:

  • How our mind works
  • How our feelings influence our thoughts, images and behaviour
  • How you relate to yourself (whether you attack, blame or criticise yourself)
  • How self-criticism and self-blame affect us
  • Why self-compassion is so important
  • What gets in the way of being compassionate to ourselves
  • Why acceptance (of our feelings, of our difficulties and of ourselves) is so important
  • How we have a choice about how to respond to strong emotions

CFT also teaches practical skills to help people develop compassion for themselves and others.

Research supports the benefits of CFT and indicates that people who engage in CFT show reductions in anxiety, depression, anger, stress, rumination, perfectionism, fear of failure, and body shame. Research has also shown that the more self compassionate we are the more effective we are coping with stressful life events such as academic failure, chronic pain and divorce. Self-compassion has also been shown to have a mediating effect on veterans exposed to trauma and their trauma symptoms and burnout in nursing staff. Finally, self-compassion is associated with increases in life satisfaction, happiness, self-confidence, optimism, curiosity, creativity and gratitude.

All the practitioners in the DBT and Schema Therapy Clinic have received training in CFT and have experience of using it in both individual and group work. If your preference is for individual therapy, your psychologist will be able to bring this approach into the work. If applicable, or alternatively we also run a Compassion Focused Therapy Group programme in Petersfield.