Compassion Focused Therapy
Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) was developed by Prof. Paul Gilbert, and draws on neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology and Buddhist psychology. It can be an effective therapy on it’s own, particularly for people with high levels of shame or self-criticism, and who find it difficult to treat themselves (or others) with warmth and kindness. It can also be a useful adjunct to other therapeutic approaches, and was initially developed within a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy framework. Due to the close synergy between mindfulness and compassion, it integrates very well with mindfulness-based approaches such as ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy).
What is compassion?
Well, it’s an often misunderstood word, and it’s actually better understood as a behaviour or action than a feeling or emotion. It involves two steps: First being able to recognise suffering (in others and the self), and secondly doing something to reduce or prevent that suffering. And when I’m using the word suffering here, it can be taken to mean a full spectrum of experience from a mild dissatisfaction to the extremes of pain. Compassion is often not an easy option, but it is always powerful.
Compassion is totally different to pity:
Compassion connects you to the suffering, it calls for courage and kindness, and requires action to reduce suffering (without that last bit it’s not compassion).
Pity distances you from the suffering, and does not require you to respond to it with kindness, nor for you to do anything to reduce it.
From this you can see that self-pity may be connected with wallowing in self-pity, doing nothing, or being self-indulgent, whilst self-compassion involves courage, taking action and making a positive difference.
An introduction to some aspects of the CFT model:
CFT is founded in the knowledge that we have evolved minds & brains that are not ‘designed’ to make our lives happy or easy, and are therefore quite ‘tricky’ to deal with – especially in the absence of a handbook! The brain itself has evolved, and can be considered to be made up of an ‘old’ emotional centre (much like a reptile brain), and a ‘new’ logical outer region (like other mammals).
CFT recognises three emotional regulation systems in the mind and body, which ideally engage in appropriate situations, and overall operate in a balanced way:
The ‘Threat & Protection’ system, commonly referred to as the Fight, Flight or Freeze response, connected with emotions such as anxiety, anger and disgust.
The ‘Motivation & Drive’ system, which is essentially pleasure/reward seeking.
The ‘Soothing & Affiliation’ system, which allows rest and recovery along with intimate and close bonds to other individuals.
The first two systems involve the sympathetic nervous system, and produce arousal states, the third involves the parasympathetic nervous system, and produces calm states of open attention.
Current western societies may tend to over stimulate the first two systems; consider, for example, how advertising either directly tries to engage our drive systems, or works on the threat system by telling us we’re not OK unless we buy ‘x’. Education and work environments, news reports and even social media also tend to stimulate these two systems. So our bodies get out of balance with too much stimulation and arousal, and not enough soothing or calming. As a result, trying to work simply on regulating the threat system may be insufficient; the soothing/affiliation system needs to be strengthened to help to create balance.
It’s also important to note that these systems can be triggered by internal experiences (thoughts, memories, urges), as well as external ones. So, for example, self-critical thoughts can trigger our threat system just as effectively as any criticism from the boss would do. For many people, that self-critical voice can be a major cause of their threat system engaging, leading to feelings of anxiety as well as inadequacy or shame.
Please note that, as with any talking therapy, results may vary from person to person.
Call me directly on 07831-693684 to make an appointment, or send me an e-mail (there's a 'contact me' link below).
Sessions are at Delta House, near to London Bridge station, SE1, and cost £75.00.