Compassion Focused Therapy

Compassion focused therapy (CFT) was developed by Clinical Psychologist Professor Paul Gilbert who observed that it was often difficult to reach those struggling with issue of shame and self-criticism using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques. He noticed that these people could engage with the CBT model but not feel any better or support themselves long term. Being something I’d encountered I started investigating what might be helpful as a therapist, ultimately training to an advanced level in CFT.

The approach draws on ideas in evolution, social psychology, developmental psychology and buddhism, as well as the latest research in neuroscience – utilising a mix of psycho-education (to understand the model) as well as practices to try and help develop the compassionate mind. The hope is that by understanding how our brains have evolved into having three systems (threat/ drive / soothing) we can move to help better develop the self-soothing system to create a better balance for ourselves.

There are many ways and techniques that can be offered to help develop a compassionate mind which include breathing techniques, imagery and letter writing, for example – these can be matched to an individuals needs. What I particularly like about the approach is its humanity in appreciating how we all have the same struggle with our ‘tricky’ brains.

As a therapist I have seen this approach help people feeling stuck in very self-critical and shameful places to move on with their lives and sustain their own recovery. I have also received help myself after a traumatic event and cannot underestimate the strength developing a compassionate mind can bring to your life. I find the approach is very functional in helping us move from a shame-based self attacking focus to a more helpful compassionate self- correction place. 

Of course this is my take and my experience of compassion focused therapy and in this short ‘clipped notes’ space may not have done it justice. But there is a growing body of research supporting the development of compassion for good mental health and information out there to read if you are intrigued by this therapy. Very good help books in the compassionate mind range have been written on subjects such as; anger, anxiety, overeating, building self-confidence, improving social confidence and reducing shyness, trauma, post-natal depression, and now self-help workbooks to accompany them. If I were to recommend one accessible book to everyone it would be –

The Compassionate Mind – Professor Paul Gilbert

I have included a link to the Compassionate Mind Foundation who are a charitable organisation looking to spread the word on how effective this type of help can be, and who I have found to be very generous in nature. They have lists of books and research which may be of interest.