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Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)

CFT promotes mental and emotional wellbeing by encouraging individuals to be compassionate toward themselves and others. Developed in the early 2000s by Paul Gilbert, it draws from psychology, treatment types and various religions, including:

CFT heightens awareness of the association of thought, behavior and emotion regulation systems, with an aim to bring them into balance. CFT theorizes such systems evolved among early humans to facilitate survival, whether to avoid or overcome threats, seek resources (food or intimacy) or desire being part of a social community. The three systems affect emotions, actions and beliefs today, for example:

Threat and self-protection system: Reflects different feelings (fear, anxiety, anger) when faced with a threatening stimulus. An individual may exhibit various behaviors (submission or fight-or-flight responses) or develop certain cognitive biases (jumping to conclusions, stereotyping or assuming it is always better to play it safe). 

Drive and excitement system: Directs individuals toward goals and resources, fostering feelings of anticipation and pleasure. Those with over-stimulated drive may engage in risky behaviors (unsafe sexual practices or drug and alcohol abuse).

Contentment and social safeness system: This soothing system regulates the threat and drive systems. Linked with feelings of happiness—not associated with pleasure-seeking or due to an absence of threats—it produces a state of positive calm typically tied to feeling socially connected, cared for and safe.

Compassionate mind training (CMT)

CFT’s primary therapeutic technique—compassionate mind training—involves strategies to help individuals experience and foster compassion for the self and others. CMT can develop compassionate motivation, sympathy, sensitivity and distress tolerance through training and guided exercises, while diminishing judging and condemning attributes. For example: 

Appreciation exercises or enjoyable activities, such as making a list of likes, noticing something enjoyable or appreciating rewarding behavior

Mindfulness or the ability to pay attention to the current moment in a non-judgmental manner

Compassion-focused imagery exercises to produce images that stimulate the mind and soothing system, such as guided memories and fantasies

CFT helps those who find it challenging to understand, feel or express compassion or feel unworthy of being treated compassionately. It can also effectively help people manage distressing thoughts, behaviors and feelings, particularly when dealing with feelings of self-attack. For example:

– A therapist may ask questions that focus on what may be blocking compassion or its expression. 

– A therapist may guide an individual whose difficult feelings arise from self-attack by guiding the client to visualize self-criticism as a “person” and then describe related feelings toward better understanding. 

Other areas that can be effectively treated by CFT include: 

Learn more about Evidence-Based Treatments offered at CFI…



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