Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)

Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) was developed to target mental health issues that arise from shame and self-criticism. For instance, individuals with depressive symptoms tend to be highly critical of oneself; they might frequently compare themselves to others and feel inadequate in many aspects of their life.

 

Theory behind CFT

CFT targets three emotion regulation systems that play a key role in our cognitive functioning, to allow individuals to learn about balancing these emotions to engage in self-soothing and dealing with negative emotions. 

  • Threat and self-protection 

When we encounter stressful situations (e.g.external and internal threats), our body is put into “fight or flight” mode through this system, where emotions such as anxiety, anger, and disgust are experienced. 

  • Drive seeking 

Having the need to seek out resources such as food, shelter, and intimacy, and obtaining achievements, there is a stronger motivation to obtain such needs, and we experience emotions such as pleasure and comfort. 

  • Contentment and soothing 

When in a safe environment with no perceived threat, we are able to place energy in caring for ourselves and others. This system encompasses emotions like calmness, relaxation, and satisfaction. 

 

Aversive Childhood experiences (e.g. Neglect, abuse, abandonment) may cause individuals to have an imbalanced emotional system where they may feel unworthy, be hypervigilant, or misinterpret threat. When these emotional systems are not balanced, we may seek unhelpful coping methods which may result in mental disorders such as Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or issues with self-care. (E.g. Someone suffering from OCD finds relief from engaging in behaviours, like switching the light switch 20 times, that are thought to avoid threats, creating an inaccurate Threat-Drive relationship) 

 

How does CFT work? 

CFT primarily uses variations of Compassionate Mind techniques to help individuals reach a place of self-acceptance and care, by understanding compassion from a third-person perspective and applying it to themselves. CFT can also allow individuals to feel more safeness and warmth in their interactions with others and themselves.

 

Similar to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Compassion Mind Training (CMT) also aims to replace self-critical thoughts with more compassionate ones. Learning to understand when, how and why thoughts like “I’m not good enough” or “I’m a failure” arise, and how to counter them with non-judgmental and non-condemning attitudes. 

 

CMT in summary:

  • Self-acceptance/ Appreciation exercises (e.g. taking time to do things of interest) 
  • Gratitude activities
  • Rhythm breathing techniques
  • Mindfulness practices (e.g. paying attention to the current moment without judgment) 
  • Compassion-focused imagery exercises (e.g. using images that engage with the soothing system) 

 

When is CFT used?

  • Depressive symptoms 
  • Anxiety
  • Self-criticism and shame 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Trauma 
  • Psychosis 

 

Additional notes on CFT: 

  • Importance in willingness to use CMT techniques 
    • Some might perceive self-compassion to be a weakness; an “excuse” to not strive for perfection. 
    • Aversion toward CFT may result when clients are not ready or open to this idea.
  • Backfiring of Self-compassion 
    • Individuals who are highly self-critical may feel like a failure if they are unable to practice self-compassion upon commencing CFT. They may view this experience as a negative one, harboring shame and anger towards themselves. 
    • May be ineffective for those experiencing intense anger/ rage 

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