What is Compassion Focused Therapy?
Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) is a form of psychological therapy developed by Paul Gilbert for people struggling with mental health problems characterized by shame, self-attack, and self-blame. CFT has its philosophical roots in Buddhist philosophy, but it’s also built upon foundations of evolutionary psychology, developmental psychology, attachment, and neuroscience.
CFT defines compassion as “a sensitivity to the suffering of self and others (and the causes of that suffering) with a deep commitment to relieve it, prevent it from returning, and promote wellbeing.” (Dale-Hewitt & Irons, 2015).
There are two important components to this definition:
1. Sensitivity to suffering. To respond compassionately, first, you must be sensitive enough to detect suffering to which compassion is an appropriate response.
2. A motivation to relieve it. Compassion can be thought of as a ‘mindset’ or an intention in which one is motivated to relieve suffering.
Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) was developed to treat shame, self-loathing, and self-attack (self-criticism). CFT is transdiagnostic and is useful for working with diverse conditions such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and psychosis. CFT is a new model of psychological functioning – it draws upon the science of human nature, evolution, and attachment.
Evolution and the Brain
CFT builds upon the science of human nature. This means understanding that our brains are the product of evolution and that we live with the legacy of brains that were not designed with our happiness and well-being in mind. Different parts of our brains have different motivations, abilities, and interests. The way our brains are built, and the context in which they have developed, affects our experiences and how we can live our lives.
The CFT Model
CFT proposes that human beings have three systems for managing their emotional states. Each system has different motivations, foci of attention, thoughts, emotions, and body feelings. Each system is associated with different parts of the brain, and with different neurochemistry.
We are all born with threat systems that are ready for action. If our other emotion systems are well developed we have choices about which system we use at any particular time. Through no fault of their own, some people’s childhoods were not as good as others – and so they have not had the opportunities for their caregiving system to be as well developed. This means they have fewer ways of coping with the stresses that everyone faces in life. People in the threat mindset are more likely to try and cope by fight or flight – avoiding things (flight) or being self-critical (self-fight).
Alleviating Suffering by Developing Compassion
Everyone will experience pain in their lives, but suffering is a particularly human ability. Suffering is associated with the way we experience our own minds. The goal of CFT is to alleviate suffering by developing your caregiving (compassion) system – allowing you to live more comfortably in your own mind. The caregiving system has the qualities of non-judgment, strength, warmth, empathy, wisdom, kindness, and moral courage. Treatment using CFT involves learning about human nature, learning skills to develop the caregiving system, practicing activating the caregiving system, and using it in your life.
Compassion is made up of 6 main components:
- Moral Courage
This CFT Compassion Formula worksheet is designed to help you come to a compassion-informed and de-shaming understanding of your life and experiences.