Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)

What Is Compassion Focused Therapy?

  • CFT was originally created to help people who experience shame and self-criticism. Often considered an offshoot of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), CFT can be used to treat people with symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental distress for whom CBT has not been effective.
  • It’s common for us to extend kindness and empathy to others more readily than we might offer such values to ourselves. However, we’re all struggling with the same big life questions and difficulties and learning how to make sense of our brains and bodies with little to no instruction. CFT helps us learn how to cultivate kindness and support so that we can handle life and navigate challenges more effectively. 
  • Developed by UK Professor Paul Gilbert in the early 2000s, Compassion Focused Therapy was designed to target populations for whom other cognitive behavioural methods proved ineffective. In addition, academics like Chris Germer and Kristin Neff, PhD, have tailored Gilbert’s approach for American audiences and helped to create awareness about this modality for therapeutic populations in the States. While there remains debate within British and American psychotherapy communities about the relationship between CFT and CBT, I find the two approaches work extremely well in tandem with one another. 
  • Compassion Focused Therapy is a cutting-edge modality based on the ways that human beings live, struggle, and thrive. Grounded in both an evolutionary understanding and the latest developments in neuroscience, it is an approach that can withstand the test of time because it is constantly being updated to reflect recent scientific progress. 
  • And while CFT is a relatively new therapeutic model, a great deal of research has been done to demonstrate the effectiveness of a compassion-focused approach and other related by-products, such as Mindful Self Compassion, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. 

How Does CFT Work?

Compassion Focused Therapy helps us to understand how the brain functions when it is biased towards threat. By examining how our “hardware” both helps and hinders us, CFT allows us to better understand internal response systems. 

Using three systems that help us to understand our brains and motivations, CFT aims to balance our internal reactions and stress response so that we can facilitate a kinder relationship to ourselves. The three systems include Threat, Drive (also known as Achievement or Resource), and Soothing, which have always been foundational to our survival as humans. Because we are engineered to protect ourselves from threats, our brains are constantly working to make us overly safe and often miserable, resulting in mental and emotional struggle. 

Despite the huge strides we have made in terms of sustaining survival, our brains have remained difficult to understand and stubborn in their evolutionary responses. While some therapeutic modalities like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy target the Threat and Drive Systems, CFT incorporates Soothing and teaches clients to use all three systems to achieve balance and inner harmony. 

As we begin to foster a sense of control over the Soothing System, symptoms of mental and emotional distress naturally decrease. Exercises aimed at enhancing the Soothing system during CFT may include the following:

  • Soothing rhythm breathing (resetting the nervous system by tapping into the breath cycle)
  • Supportive colour practice (using colour and imagery to support mind and body)
  • Compassionate other (mindfulness and meditative practice used to cultivate support)
  • Multiple chair (practising within the three systems to gain a better understanding of instinctive patterns) 
  • Compassionate posture (using body posture to influence mental state)
  • Letter writing (learning how to “talk to ourselves” in a supportive way)
  • Timeline (review and clear past patterns to keep them from getting in the way of present and future progress)
  • Body scan (identifying physical and emotional sensations without judgement) 

The ultimate goal of Compassion Focused Therapy is to learn to cultivate kindness and compassion for the self and to change our inner monologue from a critical one to a supportive and encouraging one. By learning how to manage our brain and body responses, we will be better suited to face and overcome life’s challenges with resilience. As such, CFT is used to treat those struggling with anxiety, depression, stress, shame, coping with life transitions, relationship difficulties, and perfectionism. 

Whereas many therapeutic modalities focus on behaviours or somatic sensations, CFT truly helps to cultivate self-soothing techniques and improve the emotional relationship with oneself. Many of my clients have said that of the various therapeutic modalities with which they have experimented, CFT is the one that stuck and created lasting change. They often report that they know they have the skills to face the future, whatever may happen. And in fact, they’re surprised by how fun the process was and how quickly they noticed improvements.

Where I Come In

Prior to 2012, I was predominantly a Cognitive Behavioural therapist. However, once I learned Compassion Focused Therapy, it not only changed my life but the lives of my clients. As I began integrating CFT into my online practice, I noticed people healing at much faster rates and developing greater confidence for handling adversity. In fact, the average number of sessions decreased somewhat dramatically after I introduced this approach, and I can now say with relative assurance that most of my clients will get through CFT in about 10 to 20 sessions. 

I bring kindness and hope to the counselling environment of online Compassion Focused Therapy, and this modality has informed many of my other therapeutic approaches. While we will certainly incorporate the central tenets of CFT into counselling, I will also use CBT, mindfulness, ecotherapy, and coaching as needed. 

I am currently one of only 100 therapists to have attended the University of Derby’s prestigious program in Compassion Focused Therapy, which is a year-long intensive centred around theory, practice, and supervision. After being qualified in CFT in 2012, I was trained in Dr. Neff’s American variant, Mindful Self-Compassion. And since incorporating CFT into my practice, I have run groups in hospital, university, and other settings on such topics as shame, anxiety, and self-criticism.

Though I continue to receive supervision from the original developers of Compassion Focused Therapy, I am now qualified to supervise and offer one-on-one training to other clinicians who want to incorporate CFT into their practice. If you’re a clinician looking for an experienced CFT therapist to guide you in practising CFT techniques and integrating it with other modalities, I am available to oversee your transition. 

Learning Compassion Focused Therapy not only changed my career in counselling but my relationship with myself. I know this modality works because I have witnessed first-hand its ability to transform an individual’s relationships with themselves to be kinder and more empathetic. 

Learn To Love Yourself The Way You Love Others

If you’re curious about how Compassion Focused Therapy  (CFT) can give you tools for overcoming anxiety and self-criticism, schedule a Free online Test Drive to see how I can help. 


Clinicians, if you’re interested in using Compassion Focused Therapy with your clients and don’t know where to begin, I can help you learn how to incorporate CFT into your work. Schedule to complete a Free online Supervision Test Drive and find out more.

Recent Posts

Recent Posts
  • Although it’s a relatively new therapeutic model, the effectiveness of Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and the usefulness of the 3 Systems of CFT for Mood Management has quickly become apparent to mental health practitioners worldwide.  It draws upon several sources, including evolutionary and developmental psychology and neuroscience. CFT also provides a practical and holistic way to understand what drives your moods and emotions. Simply put, it helps you understand what you can do to shift your mood when needed and how to manage moods better in the first place. To better understand CFT  keep reading to learn about the fundamentals behind it. CFT 3 Systems for Mood Management At the core of CFT are the three systems for mood management. These are often referred to as the drive, threat, and soothing systems. The founder of CFT, Paul Gilbert, conceptualized human behavior and emotions as operating within these three systems, and the fact that they are designed to balance each other out. We need all three systems to help us function and navigate our complicated lives. As you can imagine, though, they often fall out of balance. One system will take over at the expense of the other systems. When this happens, we often run into emotional dysregulation. We struggle with depression, anxiety, isolation, relationship problems, and get stuck in patterns we don’t like. Fortunately, we can learn to pay attention to these systems. As our understanding of them grows, we can take proactive steps to get back into balance. We also find new insight that helps pieces of the larger puzzle fall together. CFT Threat System The threat-protection system lives in the oldest part of the human brain. It evolved in order to keep early humans safe from the many sources of harm they had to live with. As such, this system spurs you into action without you even having to think about it. In fact, the threat system is responsible for the fight, flight, or freeze response. It’s how our brain tries to protect us. It helps us react quickly for our safety. Think about the surge of fear you might experience if another car nearly hits you on the road, or phycial and emotional response you might have on a flight that is extra turbulent. Unfortunately, though, sometimes we get stuck in the threat system even after a threat has passed. This is something you can see play out in anxiety disorders. CFT Drive System Humans also need the drive-excitement system to survive. This system is driven by the dopamine hormone, which provides feelings of pleasure when we receive something we need or want. It motivates us to work, provide for our families, and seek rewards. When the drive system is out of balance, though, we may spend too much time pursuing money or turn into compulsive spenders. This urge to obtain money, status, or other things can turn into a high. And this drive system can overtake the other systems while affecting our relationships and our health. CFT Soothing System You probably won’t be surprised to find out that the soothing system is often the one that modern humans are weakest in. We tend to get caught in the drive and threat systems. The soothing system is driven by oxytocin, a hormone that nurtures relationships and contentment. You can see this at work when parents comfort their infants or when friends encourage each other after a loss. We can learn how to nurture and tap into this system, however, when it’s out of balance. This is a large part of what we focus on in CFT sessions. More importantly, you can build mindfulness skills to provide yourself with the same compassion you get from other people. *** It’s important to know that it’s not your fault when these systems fall out of balance. After all, your brain (my brain and all human brains) developed this way through many millennia, and circumstances out of your control contribute to these imbalances. Likewise, none of the systems are more important than the others. They’re all necessary for a balanced emotional state, and it’s entirely possible to learn how to achieve this balance. I’m a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Hawaii and an Accredited CBT Therapist and Registered Counsellor in the UK. If you’d like to learn more about how to manage your mood with the CFT 3 Systems please contact me at my Honolulu clinic or my London clinic. to set up a no cost / no pressure Test Drive session.

  • Online CFT Therapy Image

    While the pandemic has led to a great increase in the use of teletherapy, also known as video therapy and telemedicine, it’s not the only reason to seek out online therapy treatment. In fact, I’ve been offering online Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) sessions for many years.

  • If you have recently decided to come out to others, are thinking about it, or coming out to yourself for the first time, you may feel scared and nervous and this is totally normal. You may feel uncertain as to how your family, friends and colleagues will react.

  • As a CBT therapist, I have found compassion-focused therapy (CFT) immensely helpful for my clients, and I specifically teach these methods in sessions. As you put these techniques into practice, you will discover that they offer life-changing insights and deeper self-knowledge.

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