Dr Kate Joseph
What is Compassion Focused Therapy?
There is mounting evidence that becoming more compassionate towards oneself and others can significantly improve both emotional and physical wellbeing. Over the past 20 years, Professor Paul Gilbert, Clinical Psychologist, and colleagues have been developing ‘Compassion Focused Therapy’, which is an approach that encourages people to become ‘better friends to themselves’ (1). CFT builds on existing approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as well as drawing on theories of attachment, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience. An important part of CFT involves helping people to understand how the human brain has evolved over time, how it differs from animal’s brains, and how our minds can get us into unhelpful cycles that lead us to become anxious, depressed and self critical.
How does CFT work and how is it different to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
CFT can be offered to individuals and groups and the number of sessions depends on the issue at hand. Like CBT, it is a collaborative form of therapy where the client and clinician work together to understand how patterns have developed and how to break unhelpful cycles. CFT has been found to be particularly helpful for people who experience shame and self criticism, where traditional CBT does not always help. Unlike in CBT when people are guided to challenge negative thoughts and replace them with more balanced thoughts; in CFT the aim is develop a different relationship with thoughts and feelings. Rather than avoiding painful feelings, people are encouraged to engage with them in a compassionate way. According to Gilbert, being compassionate should not be confused with simply being ‘soft’ or ‘nice’ to oneself, as compassion can involve setting firm boundaries. For example, for someone who overeats to manage distress, the compassionate challenge is to find a different way of soothing oneself. For someone who tends to avoid conflict, the challenge is learn how to manage anxiety in conflicts. Research shows that helping people to become more understanding to themselves can lead to significant reductions in depression, anxiety, shame (2) and other issues such as eating disorders (3). For more information on CFT, you can visit The Compassionate Mind Foundation website: http://compassionatemind.co.uk/
- Gilbert, P. (2009). The Compassionate Mind. London: Constable. Gilbert, P. (2010). Compassion-Focused Therapy: Distinctive Features. East Sussex: Routledge. For more general information: http://compassionatemind.co.uk
- Gilbert, P. and Procter, S. (2006). Compassionate Mind Training for people with high shame and self-criticism: A pilot study of a group therapy approach. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 13, 353-379.
- Goss, K. and Allan, S. (2010). Compassion Focused Therapy for Eating Disorders. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 3,141-158.