Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)

Usefully seen alongside the work of Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), initiated by Paul Gilbert, has much to add to the art of safe experimenting.

Like ACT, CFT is less concerned with a theory or a model but it is well connected to knowledge emerging from neuro-science.

Like Mindfulness, CFT is good at linking Eastern philosophies and practices to Western therapeutic structures such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Martin Seligman’s perspective on positive psychology.

One thing that does bother me about the model is its concern for an ‘evidence-base’. With this pre-occupation may come a reluctance to value your creation of unpredictable outcomes from safe experiments. You can assess what is ‘evidence’ for yourself. Also, we continue to see ‘therapies’ proliferate. This encourages us to think we can discover the ‘real thing’; find some instructions to tell us what we most need.

Instead, I want you to use CFT as a ‘mirror’ and to look at yourself as you practise the art of working differently. Fortunately, the term ‘evidence-base’ is rather fashionable and, in practice, it is not essential if you are to integrate CFT into your safe experiments.

The CFT approach shares with this web site an interest in thinking-about- breathing can provide a helpful start when we want to make change. CFT refers to this experiment as “soothing rhythmic breathing” It adds a focus on diaphragmatic breathing; that is, belly or abdominal breathing. I like the way it encourages us to “play with the speed of your breath until you find a comfortable, soothing rhythm of breath“. Such experiments relate to the body scan by asking us to pay attention to our body and noticing our thoughts, feelings and sensations. It is wise to see how the mind can wander CFT encourages us to “just notice” and gently guide ourselves back to awareness of our body.

A further experiment

Engage with thinking-about-breathing. As this continues, focus on how your legs feel. On your out-breath imagine any tension in your legs and notice how it can flow down your legs and out of your body. Let the tension go.

As you breathe in, notice the energy that flows into and through your body. You can tense your leg muscles as you breathe in. Allow them to relax as you breathe out.

If you experiment with progressive relaxation you will find you can do this experiment with every part of your body – starting at the very top, with your skull, and working down to your smallest pinkie.

Finish such experiments slowly; try a slow count from 1 up to five. It might help. Also, you can move your body around a little with your in-breath. Notice how your body feels as you do this.

Another practice associated with CFT and, I should say, a number of therapies, including hyponosis, is the routine of creating a sense of calm in a safe place of your choosing. I have said more about this elsewhere.

All these practices, and other meditative routines, can help us to become more aware of our “compassionate self”, as well as a compassion for others. Notice, for example, how not everything that happens is our fault. Do I have the wisdom to know the difference between the things within my influence, and the things that are not?

When you read up on the CFT you will be informed about three systems humans use to manage their emotional states. This may be helpful in the design of safe your experiments. The systems mentioned are:

  • the Threat system – where our motivation is to simply survive, attention is threat-focused, driven by fear, anxiety, thoughts of danger, and the fight or flight system.
  • the Drive system – where our motivation is to achieve/win, attention is given to goals and finding the advantage; it is concerned with motivation, arousal, and focus.
  • The Care system – where our motivation is to look after, or be looked after; to soothe or be soothed and foster empathy toward other people. It is concerned with caring, soothing, safety and calmness.

Like the SWOT analysis or the Power, Threat and Meaning page referred to elsewhere on this web site, it can help us to make a record of the Threat, Drive and Care systems that have evolved in your own life. What do they look like and in what way might you want one or more to be just a little bit different?

For more information on Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) take a look at this slide presentation on this link.

If you do this, I’d recommend you to revisit the work by Stephen Porges and Dan Siegel. Notice how common connections are emerging from neuro-science and ways of doing therapy.