Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT)

Compassion Focussed Therapy combines powerful techniques from CBT, Buddhism, neuroscience and developmental psychology. It was originally devised to help with people with high degrees of shame, but it turns out its much more versatile than that,

I draw on CFT a lot in my longer term work. Many clients find CFT very helpful.

Here are some resources so you can learn about CFT.

To really get a feel for CFT I recommend watching  some of the the videos and listening to an audio mediation or two.

A great place to start is this fantastic film animation..
It's about CFT for psychosis but is also very informative about CFT in general. It lasts about 5 minutes.

To understand how CFT can help, it's useful to learn a little about the brain
We all have three key emotional systems

The Red threat and self-protection system is associated with "negative" emotions like anxiety, anger and shame.

The Blue drive and achievement system is associated with dynamic positive emotions such as excitement and success

The Green soothing and contentment system is associated with calm positive emotions including contement and also  with feeling connected with others.

This is best understood by looking at this 3 Circles picture.


Which system do  you think is dominant when you are anxious?
That's right, red

Which circle do you think is very small if you are depressed?
Yes, the  Blue system is very small when you are feeling low.

Which system do you think grows when you practice CFT ?
Absolutely. The green, soothing system is built using CFT.

It would be a mistake however to think that  the green and blue  systems are good and the red system is bad.
All three emotional systems have a place, we need them all.   If I left home without my red system, within 5 minutes, I'd probably get run over! The red system tries to protect us from danger.
Remember the  Pixar film Inside Out.

 When I watched the film initially like most viewers I was rooting for Riley to be joyful the whole time.  By the end of the film we have learnt that Riley needed sadness to communicate to others that she needed their support. Even Anger and Disgust have an important function.

In CFT you develop what's called the "compassionate self" to be  wise, mindful and kind  and achieve the appropriate balance between the three systems, by developing compassion.

So what do we mean by compassion in CFT?  

The Dalai Lama

 According to the Dalai Lama, compassion is  “…a sensitivity to the suffering of self and others, with a deep commitment to try to relieve it.” So the first thing to remember is that there  are two sides to compassion - empathy and action. Compassionate people arent people who sit around doing nothing.

To get further insight into the true nature of compassion, it's helpful to think about what truely compassionate people are like. When I attended Chris Irons' excellent workshop on CFT he put up  a montage of people we might consider to be exceptional paragons of compassion. People like Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Jesus, Florence Nightingale  and Mother Theresa.  If you  think compassion is weak, think again. Was Nelson Mandela weak? If you think of  compassion as sentimental, ask whether  Florence Nightingale was sentimental?

True compassion means being strong and wise and responsible as well as being kind, warm and caring.  I find this diagram helpful, where the key qualities of the compassionat self are identified as Strength, Caring Commitment and Wisdom.

The Aim of CFT is to build a compassionate self finding the right balance of the 3 emotional systems

You become the best version of yourself, bringing caring commitment, strength and wisdom to life.  We need to build a number  of qualities to achieve this -  we need to build the green soothing system. We need to nurture mindfulness. We also need to  build virtues  such as wisdom and courage.

Here are some tools that can help you do this. Click on a link and it will give you free access to a resource (often an audio file), many of them recorded by Paul Gilbert, the creator of CFT.

Building an Ideal Compassionate Other (Paul Gilbert)

You can also download for free  an 82 page "CFT for patients" booklet written by Paul Gilbert with lots of  other exercises including the "the Many parts of you".

           CFT is a lot more than a bunch of techniques, though. It's a philosophy, a way of looking at yourself and human existence, through a compassionate lens. It's a motivation to be self-compassionate, to understand that a lot of what goes on in our heads is tricky but not our fault. But it is our responsibility to do something about it. CFT gives us a toolkit,

           To learn more about CFT there are a lot of great resources out there.

           You can watch  a full CFT Workshop given by Paul Gilbert on  You Tube

There are also some good books  on CFT including

CFT Made Simple  Russel Kolts

The Compassionate Mind Workbook  Chris Irons & Elaine Beaumont (recommened: out in July 2017)

For therapists, you might find my account of CFT written soon after I found out about it still useful.  And don't forget that free 82 page booklet.

Good luck!

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