A private London clinic integrating psychiatry and psychology

Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT)

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Compassion Focussed Therapy (or compassionate mind training CFT) was developed by Professor Paul Gilbert for individuals with chronic and longstanding problems (such as depression and anxiety) with high shame and self-criticism. The principles behind CFT are drawn from evolutionary psychology, developmental and social psychology, neuroscience and models of emotions. It also draws from treatment models such as cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behavioural therapy (Gilbert, 2009).

Often people with long-standing or chronic problems, especially those from traumatic backgrounds, find self-warmth and self-acceptance difficult and/or frightening. CFT is an approach for helping with difficult emotions and tendencies to be self critical. CFT develops the compassionate self, by practicing, thinking about, imagining and focusing on what it means to be a compassionate person in a non-judgmental way. It teaches the person self-soothing and compassion in order to work with the individuals feelings of shame.

Shame is understood to influence vulnerability to mental health problems and is now recognised as a major component of a range of mental health problems and proneness to aggression (Gilbert, 1997, 2003; Tangney & Dearing, 2002). It also affects the expression of symptoms, the ability to reveal painful information, various forms of avoidance such as dissociation and denial and problems in help seeking (Gilbert & Procter, 2006). Shame is thought to involve two components: internal shame and external shame. External shame is related to thoughts and feelings about how others perceive you (for example feeling that others view you negatively) and internal shame is where the person becomes self-critical (for example seeing yourself as inadequate, flawed or bad).

CFT aims to reduce shame by increasing the person’s ability to self sooth and focus on feelings of warmth and reassurance for the self. Research has shown that CFT significantly reduces depression, anxiety, self-criticism, shame, inferiority and submissive behaviour (Gilbert & Procter, 2006).

References

Gilbert, P. (2009). The Compassionate Mind. Constable and Robinson Ltd.

Gilbert, P. (2003). Evolution, social roles, and differences in shame and guilt. Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences 70, 1205-1230

Gilbert, P. (1997). The evolution of social attractiveness and its role in shame, humiliation, guilt and therapy. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 70, 113-14

Gilbert and Procter (2006). Compassionate Mind Training for People with High Shame and Self-Criticism: Overview and Pilot Study of a Group Therapy Approach. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 13, 353-379

Tangney, J.P. & Dearing, R.L. (2002). Shame and Guilt. New York: Guilford Press.