You’d assume that all talking therapies involve compassion – at the very least from your therapist, but also by encouraging you to cultivate one’s own compassion for your self.
Indeed, we often find that feelings of shame and self-criticism are brought to therapy, and people who experience these pernicious states may well struggle to feel relieved, reassured or even safe in the world. Paul Gilbert, a psychologist with three decades of thinking and working with shame-based states, has synthesised his thinking in a very engaging way.
He has pioneered a therapy that moves compassion to central position, and the science he draws upon may even persuade the sceptical to start being kind to themselves. Compassion Focused Therapy is not yet the new ‘CBT’ but we reckon its ideas are ones to watch.
Research suggests that a specialised ‘affect regulation system’ (affect referring to emotional state here) underpins feelings of reassurance, safeness and well-being. Furthermore, it is thought that an ability to register and respond with calm, and a sense of well-being to being cared for, evolved with our early attachment systems (ie relationships with parents or caregivers).
Gilbert hypothesises that this soothingregulation system is poorly accessible in people with high shameand self-criticism, meaning that the ‘threat’ affect regulation system dominates experience. CFT tries to address this by de-activating the ‘threat’ system and kick-starting the ‘soothing’ system, using an integration of evolutionary, social, developmental and Buddhist psychologies, along with contemporary neuroscience.
A big part of this type of work is compassionate mind training to help people developand work with experiences of inner warmth, safeness and soothing. This is where meditation and imagery comes in, and daily practice at home. We’d really welcome hearing of anyone’s experience of CFT if they’ve had it.
I wrote more about this for Therapy Today. Promoting wellbeing through compassion TTJune11