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Author: Dr Jonathan HarrisClinical Psychologist

CFT involves exploring the origins of emotional difficulties, which often lie in a history of abuse, bullying, neglect or lack of affection. CFT is particularly helpful when we KNOW what we need to do or think, but we don't really believe or FEEL it.


What is Compassion Focused Therapy?

Developed by Professor Paul Gilbert at Derby University as a method of helping people with shame-based problems, CFT combines techniques from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with

  • modern neuroscience
  • evolutionary and social psychology
  • mindfulness
  • concepts from ancient Buddhist philosophy

Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) aims to help promote mental and emotional healing by reducing feelings of threat and shame, which tend to be core features of mental health difficulties.
The therapy is grounded in current understanding of basic emotional regulation systems:

  • the threat and self-protection system
  • the drive and excitement system
  • the contentment and social safeness system

The aim of CFT is to bring these three systems into balance and encourages people in treatment to be compassionate toward themselves and other people.

Compassion focused therapy is particularly effective for people who are overly critical of themselves and lack self-belief.


What is Compassion Focused Therapy used to treat?

CFT can be helpful to people who experience a high level of shame and self-criticism and who might find it really difficult to accept compassion or help from others. It can also very effective at helping someone who struggles to be compassionate towards others – enabling them to have more meaningful and successful relationships both in work and their personal lives.

Other concerns treated with CFT include:


Is Compassion Focused Therapy right for me?

The key indicators that CFT might be a good choice for you are:

  • Shame and self-criticism are key to your current situation
  • You struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders or personality disorders
  • You feel very self-critical and often have negative ‘self-talk’
  • You have experienced bullying, abuse or neglect
  • You want to reduce feelings of threat and increase feelings of safeness
  • You struggle to feel compassion towards others and this holds you back in relationships
  • You struggle to accept other’s help or compassion which may leave you feeling isolated.

Why might Compassion Focused Therapy be wrong for me?

Before deciding to have CFT, it might be helpful to think about the following:

  • You are open to the idea of being ‘cared’ for (although much of this will be your own self care)
  • You are open to the concept of mindfulness
  • You would like to increase your ability to feel compassion for yourself and others
  • You feel you are ready to deal with some of your past history
  • You are not in a state of crisis

Excellent service from start to finish, I felt treated with respect and understanding every step of the way.

Kate, London


What should I expect from Compassion Focused Therapy?

  1. Underpinned by science - a core emphasis in CFT is understanding the emotional systems of our brains. In particular, CFT supports neuroscientific understanding of how our brains process trauma and shame. The relationship between thoughts and emotions will be explored during the therapy.
  2. Learning to be more compassionate - another core component of CFT is compassionate mind training (CMT). CMT refers to the strategies typically used to help individuals experience compassion and foster different aspects of compassion for the self and others.
  3. Guided exercises – working with a therapist you will learn ways to develop non-judging and non-condemning attributes. These may include the following activities:
  • Appreciation exercises, or activities emphasising the things an individual enjoys. These exercises may include making a list of likes, taking time to savour the moment when something enjoyable is noticed, and other positive rewarding behaviours.
  • Mindfulness, or the ability to pay attention to the current moment in a non-judgmental manner.
  • Compassion-focused imagery exercises, or the use of guided memories and fantasies to first stimulate the mind and then the physiological systems. The goal of compassion-focused imagery exercises is the production of a relational image that stimulates the soothing system.

A key element of compassion focused therapy is an understanding the way our brains process and hold onto emotional systems and the impact of our thoughts, environment and experiences on these systems. Compassion focused therapy supports the neuroscientific understanding of trauma and is highly effective at helping in reducing trauma symptoms. I have seen real transformations in the clients I have worked with using this approach.
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MSc, DClinPsy

Clinical Psychologist
Bristol

Dr Jonathan Harris is a highly experienced Clinical Psychologist currently working in the South West. Jonathan has a Masters by Research in Psychiatry, and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

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