Teaching people how to feel compassionate to themselves and others during therapy is the definition for Compassion focused therapy (CFT).
Compassion involves empathy – being able to understand one’s own and other people’s feelings – and being caring, accepting and kindly tolerant of distress in self and others. Compassion-focused therapy teaches clients that, because of how our brains have evolved, anxiety, anger and depression are natural experiences which are “not our fault”. Clients are helped to explore how early experiences such as neglect, abuse or other threatening experiences may relate to ongoing fears of rejection or abuse for example, safety strategies (e.g. social avoidance or submissive behaviours), and unintended consequences such as social rejection or other mental health problems. When people feel threatened and self-critical with strong bodily feelings, they can learn to slow their breathing and refocus attention on imagining a compassionate place, becoming a compassionate person, and/or imagining someone compassionate talking to them. For example, someone who thinks she/he is “useless” or a “failure” can be taught to think kinder thoughts like “‘I’ve actually achieved …. in my life”, “friends often seek my support”, “these thoughts come only when I’m depressed and so aren’t real”. Clients are helped to practise exercises to detect self-criticism and then refocus compassionately by creating and practising feelings and thoughts that are kind, supportive and encouraging, and noticing mindfully how this helps them. Some people take to this within a few sessions and others within 15 or more sessions to work through resistance to positive feelings.
Related procedures in CFT: Acceptance, self-acceptance, anger management, cognitive restructuring, imagery practice, meditation, mindfulness, validation of feelings, well-being therapy.
Application: During individual and group therapy for any clients, especially if they feel much shame and self-criticism.
- Gilbert P (2009). The Compassionate Mind. London: Constable-Robinson. Oaklands, CA.: New Harbinger.
- Gilbert,P (2009). An Introduction to compassion focused therapy. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 15, 199-208.