Harnessing compassion-focused therapy for healing and growth

Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) places compassion, both for oneself and for others, at the heart of the healing journey. By nurturing a kind and nurturing inner voice, CFT equips individuals with the tools to soothe themselves and foster self-supportive behaviors. 

The ultimate aim is to construct a foundation of emotional resilience, alleviate suffering, and promote profound psychological growth, all by harnessing the remarkable power of compassion as a central therapeutic tool. Explore how Thriveworks can be your partner on this path towards self-compassion and well-being, and whether CFT might be the right choice for your unique journey to healing and self-discovery.

What Is Compassion-Focused Therapy in a Nutshell?

Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is a therapeutic approach developed by Dr. Paul Gilbert that focuses on fostering compassion both for oneself and others, as a central tool for emotional healing and well-being. 

This approach recognizes that people often struggle with feelings of shame, self-judgment, and inadequacy, which can be particularly challenging in cases of depression, anxiety, or trauma. CFT helps clients cultivate a kind and nurturing inner voice, encouraging self-soothing and self-supportive behaviors. 

The goal is to build emotional resilience, alleviate suffering, and promote psychological growth by harnessing the power of compassion as a key therapeutic tool.


Understanding Compassion-Focused Therapy

Compassion-focused therapy is a therapeutic approach developed by Dr. Paul Gilbert that focuses on promoting emotional healing and well-being through the cultivation of self-compassion and compassion for others.

CFT draws from evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive behavioral therapy, emphasizing the role of our evolved “threat system,” which can lead to self-criticism and negative self-judgment. The therapy seeks to balance this threat system by activating the “soothing system,” fostering self-compassion and nurturing a kinder, more accepting relationship with oneself.

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What Are the Key Principles of Compassion-Focused Therapy?

CFT is based on several key principles:

  • Compassion as a foundation: CFT starts with the idea that compassion is a fundamental human quality. It emphasizes the importance of fostering self-compassion and compassion for others to promote emotional well-being and mental health.
  • Three emotional systems: CFT categorizes human emotions into three systems– the threat system, the drive system, and the soothing system. CFT helps individuals understand how these systems interact and how imbalances can lead to mental health issues. The goal is to increase the influence of the soothing system.
  • Self-criticism and shame: CFT addresses the role of self-criticism and shame in psychological distress. It helps individuals recognize and reduce self-criticism and develop self-compassion as an antidote to shame.
  • Compassionate mind training: CFT involves various exercises and techniques to help individuals cultivate a compassionate mindset. This may include imagery work, self-soothing practices, and developing an inner compassionate self.
  • Mindfulness and mindful self-compassion: Mindfulness is an integral part of CFT, and individuals are encouraged to be mindful of their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Additionally, CFT incorporates elements of mindful self-compassion to help individuals respond to their suffering with kindness and understanding.
  • Evolutionary psychology: CFT draws on evolutionary psychology to help individuals understand the origins of their emotional systems, including the role of the brain’s threat system and the need for compassion in a social context.
  • Compassionate imagery: CFT often involves guided imagery exercises where individuals create and nurture a compassionate inner image or figure. This compassionate figure can provide comfort and support during difficult times.
  • Building resilience: CFT aims to enhance emotional resilience by helping individuals become more self-compassionate. This resilience can be particularly helpful in managing stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Emotion regulation: CFT helps individuals improve their emotion regulation by learning to recognize and manage intense emotions more effectively.
  • Self-compassion and behavioral change: CFT recognizes that self-compassion is not about self-indulgence but rather about providing the emotional support needed for behavioral change and personal growth.

Benefits of Compassion-Focused Therapy

Compassion-focused therapy emphasizes the cultivation of compassion and self-compassion to promote emotional healing and well-being. CFT helps individuals develop a kinder and more understanding relationship with themselves. 

This self-compassion reduces self-criticism and self-blame, which are often at the core of conditions like depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. CFT aids in addressing shame and self-esteem issues. By encouraging self-compassion, individuals can explore and reframe their feelings of inadequacy, guilt, or worthlessness, leading to improved self-esteem and a greater sense of self-worth. 

CFT also is particularly useful for individuals dealing with trauma, as it provides a safe and nurturing framework for processing difficult emotions and memories. Furthermore, CFT enhances emotional regulation, helping individuals manage overwhelming emotions more effectively. 

What Is the Difference Between CBT and CFT?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and compassion-focused therapy (CFT) are two distinct approaches in the field of psychotherapy. 

CBT is: 

  • A widely practiced therapeutic technique that focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to psychological distress. 
  • Aims to help individuals reframe their thoughts and develop more adaptive coping strategies to manage their emotional and behavioral problems. 
  • Based on the premise that changing one’s thought processes can lead to changes in feelings and actions.

In contrast, compassion-focused therapy: 

  • Is rooted in the cultivation of self-compassion as a means of improving mental well-being. 
  • Acknowledges that individuals can be their harshest critics and suffer from self-criticism, shame, and self-judgment. 
  • Encourages clients to develop a kind and nurturing relationship with themselves, which can counterbalance these negative self-perceptions. 
  • Draws from evolutionary psychology and neuroscience to help clients understand the importance of self-compassion.

Is Compassion-Focused Therapy a Type of CBT?

While both CBT and CFT are rooted in the field of psychology and aim to alleviate emotional distress, they diverge in their primary emphasis. CBT primarily concentrates on identifying and modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors to bring about change. 

In contrast, CFT places a strong emphasis on cultivating self-compassion and understanding the role of self-criticism and shame in psychological difficulties. CFT integrates elements from various therapeutic traditions, including:

While CFT may incorporate CBT techniques in its approach, it is ultimately a distinct form of therapy that revolves around fostering a compassionate and accepting relationship with oneself as a means to address a wide range of emotional and psychological issues.

Is Compassion-Focused Therapy Third Wave CBT?

CFT is often considered a part of the “Third Wave” of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approaches, which includes mindfulness-based therapies such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). While traditional CBT focuses on cognitive restructuring and behavioral change, CFT expands the scope to emphasize the cultivation of self-compassion and kindness towards oneself and others. 

CFT, as part of the Third Wave of CBT, complements traditional CBT by emphasizing the cultivation of self-compassion and kindness. It offers a valuable approach for individuals struggling with self-criticism, shame, and emotional difficulties, helping them build a more compassionate self-identity and better cope with life’s challenges.

How Thriveworks Can Help

Thriveworks is an invaluable resource for individuals seeking compassion-focused therapy (CFT). Our skilled therapists can offer personalized treatment plans, tailoring CFT to the unique needs and circumstances of each client. This individualized approach ensures that clients receive targeted support in developing self-compassion, reducing self-criticism, and improving emotional well-being. 

The compassionate and non-judgmental environment provided by Thriveworks therapists fosters a sense of safety and trust.  Additionally, the flexible scheduling and extended hours mean clients can access therapy at their convenience which makes it easier to prioritize self-care.

Our Compassion-Focused Therapy Services

Compassion-focused therapy at Thriveworks is a client-centered approach that emphasizes self-compassion as a key driver of healing and transformation. You can reach out online to find a therapist who specializes in compassion-focused therapy or call your local office to get started today.

Is Compassion-Focused Therapy Right for You?

If you struggle with self-criticism, low self-esteem, or feelings of unworthiness, CFT can be beneficial since it helps individuals develop a kinder, more understanding relationship with themselves.

Additionally, If you experience issues related to shame, guilt, or unresolved trauma, CFT may offer a healing path. This approach encourages individuals to confront and process these emotions, providing a compassionate framework for self-acceptance and growth. 

Additionally, if you’re open to mindfulness and self-reflection, CFT could be suitable since it involves practices like meditation and visualization that help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions, fostering emotional regulation and resilience. Furthermore, if traditional cognitive behavioral approaches have not yielded the desired results, CFT’s focus on self-compassion and emotional regulation can be a refreshing alternative. 

However, it’s essential to consult with a qualified therapist to determine if this approach aligns with your specific needs and goals.

Take the First Step Toward Healing

Taking the first steps towards healing your mental health is a vital and often challenging process—but we’ve made it easy.You are not alone in your pursuit of better mental health. Schedule your compassion-focused therapy session today.

Table of contents

What Is Compassion-Focused Therapy in a Nutshell?

Understanding Compassion-Focused Therapy

What Are the Key Principles of Compassion-Focused Therapy?

Benefits of Compassion-Focused Therapy

What Is the Difference Between CBT and CFT?

Is Compassion-Focused Therapy a Type of CBT?

Is Compassion-Focused Therapy Third Wave CBT?

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  • Gilbert, P. (2014). The origins and nature of compassion focused therapy. British Journal of Clinical Psychology. https://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/GilbertCFT.pdf

  • Viernass, J., & Uttley, L. (2015). Psychotherapeutic benefits of compassion-focused therapy: An early systematic review. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4413786/

  • Hayes, S. V., & Hofmann, S. G. (2017, 21). The third wave of cognitive behavioral therapy and the rise of process‐based care. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5608815/

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