What are Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and Compassionate Mind Training (CMT)?

Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and Compassionate Mind Training (CMT) are forms of third wave Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), which were developed out of a combination of Western and Eastern approaches to help individuals become self-compassionate and more able to self-soothe. Unlike most therapies which focus on reducing negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety and anger, CFT and CMT focus on strengthening positive emotions.

Compassion is often associated with kindness, which is one aspect of it, but scientific research has found that courage is actually central in compassion. A commonly used definition is “a sensitivity to suffering in self and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it.” Courage in compassion relates to the willingness to observe the nature and causes of suffering in ourselves, others and humanity more generally. This requires developing wisdom to address the causes of suffering.

CFT is an integrative approach which focuses on exploring the functions of self-criticism and shame and on cultivating more compassion for self and others. It has a scientific basis founded on evolutionary psychology and neuroscience, and it uses evidence-based interventions. CFT helps people to better understand how their past experiences have led to the coping strategies they use today, which may be causing unintended consequences. Empathy and self-compassion are developed for these processes.

CMT refers to the exercises used to experience and develop compassion for self and others. It involves imagery-based practices as well as learning how to think more compassionately and engage in more compassionate behaviours towards ourselves.

CFT and CMT have used research from neuroscience to develop an understanding of how positive emotions can be stimulated. Studies suggest that there are at least two types of positive emotion systems. These can be summarised as the Drive System, which is focused on seeking and acquiring resources, and the Soothing System, which is related to feelings of safeness, contentment and connection. These operate alongside the Treat System, which is activated whenever we feel fear, angry or disgusted. These systems can become unbalanced as a result of our past experiences and we may have an over-active Threat and/or Drive System and have an under-developed Soothing System. CFT and CMT both help in re-balancing these systems by enhancing the Soothing System, which then regulates the Threat and Drive Systems. Essentially, we are stimulating brain patterns with compassion which can help to counteract the brain patterns associated with anxiety and despair.

Becoming more compassionate is a potential we all have in our minds and it can help us to be more nurturing in our relationships with ourselves, others and the world.

If you would like to develop a greater sense of compassion with CFT or CMT, then I offer one-to-one integrative counselling in Exeter and Newton Abbot in which I can focus on the CFT approach and I also facilitate CMT in an 8-week course format. Please contact me to book.

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