1164 Bishop St Suite 930, Honolulu, HI 96813 | Hawaii Counseling | Honolulu CBT | Honolulu Therapy | Hawaii CBT | Online Therapy Hawaii | Cognitive Behavior Therapy | Downtown Honolulu, near Kaka’ako, Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kahala, Aina Haina, and Hawaii Kai | Serving residents of Oahu and Hawaii
17 Nottingham St, London W1U 5EW, United Kingdom | London CBT | Online Therapy UK | Cognitive Behavior Therapy | Marylebone, London (W1)

3 Systems CFT Formulation – Master Your Emotions With This Neuroscience Based Superpower!

Learning to understand the 3 systems cft formulation

A Map To Your Emotions is What the 3 Systems CFT Formulation gives you

There are many ways therapists treat symptoms of anxiety or depression, and CFT, or Compassion Focused Therapy, (an advanced form of Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT) is an extremely effective method which is easy to understand and implement. Developed in the United Kingdom, CFT is beginning to gain traction with therapists in the states. 

It’s a concept developed by UK professor Paul Gilbert utilizing the latest neuroscience. Gilbert believed that people switch between three different regulation systems to manage their emotions, and he called these the threat, drive, and soothing systems. Understanding these systems helps my clients (and me as a person) to feel more equipped to handle their emotions, and learn how to actively thrive in daily life. 

Understanding your 3 systems CFT Formulation can better serve you in the present and the future. Here’s why.

The Threat System – Being Triggered

It is no surprise that most of our anxiety comes from spending so much time in the threat system and is the experience you have when you feel triggered.

The function of the threat or triggering system serves us by helping us seek safety, survive, and manage threats. The threat system is another way of explaining the fight, flight or freeze mode. It is the experience that people with anxiety, depression and anger have. Even when the threat is over, or even if there is no obvious threat – someone can still feel anxious because of it.

Since every person’s experience with what they consider a threat (or trigger)  is unique, CFT is a perfect way to unravel how your brain has learned to react to negative or stressful experiences.

Focusing on the threat system is the first system to understand because our bodies in an effort to survive always prioritize the threat / triggering system. And our response to Threat is conditioned like anything else, which means that what we have learned, we can unlearn. In other words, we can learn how our threat / triggering system works and change how we react when we feel triggered. 

Understanding how your brain reacts to stressful events can help you counteract these thought and behavior patterns. It will give you more awareness about how your anxiety, anger and depression has become so out of control in a helpful way.

The Drive System

Similar to the threat system, we need the drive system to survive as well. The drive system is what gives us feelings of satisfaction when we receive what we need or want. It is a dopamine based system – that feeling we get when we accomplish something or get something we wanted

However, too much of one thing can be bad. When our drive system is out of balance, we can spend too much time focusing on the gratification we receive from how we feel when we experience something or aquire things. We’ve all heard of the term retail therapy – shopping when we are down or stressed. As we experience the high of spending, this can turn into a chase that never ends. This is our ancient drive system at work, just not in the most helpful way. 

Understanding your drive system can help us to remove what no longer serves you. If you have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms like shopping too much, we can provide healthier alternatives to help you gain the satisfaction you crave.

The Soothing System

The soothing system is often the one focused on last and one that many of us aren’t even aware that we have. 
It is human nature to be so caught up in the threats and drive systems.

The soothing system revolves around our ability to slow down, rest, and practice kindness and care towards ourselves and others. It is a connecting system. 
When our other two aspects are out of whack, the soothing system suffers the most. Which in turn only worsens our feelings of threat or need for a constant drive.

In CFT sessions, the soothing system is our main focus. It will provide you with the opportunity to learn how you can provide your body and mind with the relaxation and pace that it needs to handle stress better and thrive. 

The soothing system is what is responsible for helping to regulate your emotions to help your drive and threat systems become more balanced. And the good news here is that this is a skill we can practice and get good at. 

CFT Helps Balance You

Each system in the CFT model is just as important as the other. Like so many other things in life, though, there needs to be a balance between them. Without a harmonious balance, this is when our bodies and minds begin to cope with stress or sadness in ways that do not serve us.

Understanding how each of these systems affects you will help you in several ways. It helps to understand how past patterns are preventing you from making progress towards your future. If you are having trouble regulating your emotions, CFT can help a lot. Understanding how your mind and body actually work, is very empowering. CFT directly teaches you how to manage anxiety, depression and anger by teaching you skills to notice what system you are caught up in and by teaching you tools to shift systems at will. 

If feelings of anxiety, depression or anger are getting in the way of life, learning to understand and implement the 3 systems CFT has to offer can be a game changer. Click to read more about Compassion Focused Therapy or CFT.


I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Hawaii and an Accredited CBT Therapist in the UK with over 16 years of experience. I specialize in anxiety treatments, life transitions therapy, and online therapy. I have received advanced specialist training in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Compassion Focused Therapy. Please feel free to contact me at my Honolulu or London clinic to set up an Online CFT Test Drive.

CBT Test Drive

The right approach, tools and fit is a game changer. For this reason, I offer an Initial Test Drive session to see if working together could be a great fit for you. Each Test Drive lasts between 45-60 minutes and takes place within my Video Consulting Room. Based on the latest evidence, science, and my experience, I will aim to make concrete suggestions as to what I think can be most helpful for you.