What is Compassion Focused Therapy?
Compassion is a term that gets used a lot and it is likely that the definition we use in CFT is different to the one you have in your mind! If you were embarking on CFT you would spend a fair few sessions learning in detail what we mean by the term compassion but we will try and give a bit of a flavour here.
Compassion is defined as a sensitivity to suffering in oneself and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it. When we talk of suffering we mean emotional, psychological, physical, relational and social problems/pain. Having a sensitivity to this requires courage to go near what is difficult (e.g. to face my own fears, insecurities, emotions) and having a commitment to try and alleviate this means having the dedication to try and find out how best to help-which might be why you are considering therapy. In CFT you will learn how much of your difficulties are not your fault but are based in how your mind and body has evolved as well as the experiences you have had in your life-most of which you did not chose.
However, just because we didn’t chose our suffering we still need to learn ways of helping ourselves (this is the dedication and commitment part of compassion) so you will learn to understand more about how the mind and emotions work as well as ways of toning down self criticism and threat based emotions like anxiety and anger and toning up compassion and acceptance of yourself.
CFT can also be very helpful for people are highly driven and expect a lot of themselves and others-perhaps always pushing themselves to do better and work harder. There is, of course, nothing wrong with having goals and wanting to do well for ourselves, but if we’re always striving to ‘do better’ and ‘achieve more’ (which is often valued highly in Western society so it’s no surprise people get easily caught in this), it can come at a cost. We can put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves, which can be impossible to sustain; what we do is never enough, and we never feel good about ourselves. For some people, this can trigger self-criticism and elicit feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, anger and depression.
Compassion Focused Therapy encourages us to stop judging and evaluating ourselves, cast off damaging labels, such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and – as its name suggests – help us learn to accept ourselves with kindness and compassion.
How can Compassion Focused Therapy Help?
Research supports the benefits of compassion-focused therapy and indicates that people who engage in the practice show reductions in anxiety, depression, anger, stress, rumination, perfectionism, fear of failure and body shame.
Research has shown that the more compassionate we are to ourselves, the more resilient we are when it comes to stressful life events, such as academic failure, chronic pain and divorce. Self-compassion has also been shown to have a mediating effect on veterans exposed to trauma and burnout in staff.
Finally, self-compassion is associated with an increase in life satisfaction, happiness, self-confidence, optimism, curiosity, creativity and gratitude.