Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT) was developed by Professor Paul Gilbert and builds upon the science of human nature. Our brains are the product of evolution, and that we live with the legacy of brains that were not designed with our happiness and wellbeing in mind. Different parts of our brains have different motivations, abilities, and interests. The way our brains are built, and the context in which they have developed, affects our experiences and how we can live our lives.
CFT is helpful for working with many mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and psychosis. CFT can be helpful for people who struggle with shame and high levels of self criticism. Often these can be the driving forces behind many other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
The goal of CFT is to alleviate suffering by developing your compassion system, which will allow you to live safely in your own mind. Treatment using CFT involves learning about human nature, learning skills to develop the compassion system, practicing activating the compassion system and using it in your day to day life.
One of the key theories behind compassion-focused therapy is that within our brain there are interconnecting emotional ‘systems’ that need to be managed in order to improve mental health and wellbeing. These 3 systems have evolved throughout human history in order to facilitate human survival.
The threat system – This system is protection-focused. This means it will be on high-alert for perceived threats and will react with feelings like anger, anxiety and other protective emotions.
The drive system – This system motivates us to get resources and is excitement-focused. As well as focusing on getting basic needs met, like food and shelter, this system is also keen for us to achieve goals like passing a test or succeeding on a date. It’s related to feelings of excitement and arousal.
The soothing system – This is triggered when there is no perceived threat or when nothing needs to be achieved. It makes us feel calm, peaceful and safe. This leads to us feeling content, happy and socially connected.
The aim of CFT is to create a balance in these three systems within us.
“The things that have happened to you in your life are not your fault, but it is your responsibility to alleviate your suffering.”
“Compassion is about choosing to be the best version of you that you can be”