Compassion Focused Therapy

Compassion is defined by the Dalai Lama as "a sensitivity to the suffering of self and others, with a deep commitment to try to relieve it."  Kristin Neff (2003) proposes three main components to self-compassion:
being mindful and open to one's own suffering; being kind and non self-condemning; and an awareness of sharing experiences of suffering with others rather than feeling ashamed and alone--an openness to our common humanity.

Compassion focused therapy (CFT) was developed by Paul Gilbert, (1997, 2000, 2007, 2009) for people who are high in shame and self-criticism, and who typically come from harsh backgrounds. These individuals have problems with emotion regulation, can easily perceive others to be critical and rejecting, (hostile external world), and can turn self-disliking and self-critical, (hostile internal world). Under these two types of experienced hostility patients find it extremely difficult to find ways to soothe themselves other than through the use of dugs, self-harm, dissociation etc. These individuals are likely to say, ‘I can understand the point of your therapy or your cognitive or behavioral interventions, but I can’t feel it.

CFT suggests that in order to feel reassured or have a sense of safeness or be able to soothe oneself when negative emotions are highly aroused one needs the appropriate affect system to be accessible. This affect system evolved in mammals with caring. For the first days of life infants are calmed down through the receipt of care. Caring behavior calms the threat system. It is this system that many of people struggle to access because it’s been poorly developed or people can be frightened of feelings of warmth and soothing. In addition, change often requires courage and the ability to tolerate negative emotions and painful memories. These are easier to achieve in the context of an experience of internal and external kindness and support. Hence, the main thrust of CFT is to develop the capacity for self-compassion and self-kindness, which stimulates a particular evolved affect and relationship system. Therapy involves clear psychoeducation about evolved motivational and affect regulation systems, and a series of practices and exercises focused on developing compassionate attention, compassionate thinking, compassionate behavior and compassionate feeling.

CFT has much in common with ACT in that it is not about avoidance of the painful, or trying "to soothe it away", but is a way of engaging with the painful. 

Managing for Wellness has been offering CFT for the past two years.  Clients who have benefited from this therapy have shown remarkably improved capacity for self-love, self-care, self-forgiveness, self-understanding, self-appreciation and self-empowerment in an interestingly short period of time.  Our work with CFT appears to calm the sympathetic nervous system leading to a change in attachment patterning from anxious or avoidant to a more secure style.  This calming leads to an improved ability to be present in the moment and to live a more effective, values-based life.


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