Compassion focused therapy (CFT) is a system of psychotherapy developed by Paul Gilbert that integrates techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy with concepts from evolutionary psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, Buddhist psychology, and neuroscience.

Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) has at its heart an understanding of the social evolution of the brain and the need to understand our different neurobiological systems in order to explore and intervene with our emotional distress. Often called the “3 circles model”, these include the ‘threat’ system (danger – flight/fight), ‘soothe’ system (nurturing, calming) and ‘drive’ system (achievement and goal orientation). Each of these systems has an important function but it can be that our overall system becomes imbalanced or that if we have experienced lots of stress or trauma that our threat system becomes dominant. Perhaps if we use goals and performance at work for example to deal with our difficult feelings and avoid them, our drive system becomes too dominant. Our soothing system therefore may be neglected and we lose the ability to calm and regulate our feelings.

Overall CFT aims to help people develop the capacity to tolerate and understand the basis of their feelings and learn to be more compassionate towards themselves and their difficulties. The therapist will often use educational material to explain our ‘tricky’ brains and understand the nature of current distress through this lens. The aim is to use experiential exercises and techniques to build a more compassionate self and to allow the 3 systems to become better balanced and causing less distress with an increase in self-compassion and ability to feel safe and more contented with our lives.

This model can be particularly helpful for those with high shame and self-criticism, either deriving from early negative or challenging childhood experiences, or those working in high pressure high demand work roles where ‘drive’ and ‘threat’ can be in overdrive and lead in some cases to burnout or increasing stress levels.

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