Self-compassion and compassion focused therapy (CFT)

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I was extremely fortunate yesterday to attend a workshop on CFT delivered by Prof. Paul Gilbert OBE himself and what an eye opening and beneficial experience it was both personally and professionally. I was introduced to self-compassion during my last masters degree and came across the work of Dr Kristin Neff which was also incredibly inspiring.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is the practice of treating oneself with kindness, care, and concern when faced with personal challenges, mistakes, and failures. It involves extending the same warmth, empathy, and understanding to ourselves that we would offer to a good friend. Compassion focused therapy (CFT) is a therapeutic approach that draws heavily on the concept of self-compassion and is designed to help individuals cultivate compassion towards themselves and others. In this blog, we will explore the benefits of self-compassion and CFT and discuss the contributions of two leading figures in this field: Paul Gilbert and Kristin Neff.

What is compassion focused therapy (CFT)?

Paul Gilbert, a British clinical psychologist, developed CFT in the 1990s. CFT aims to help individuals understand the role of compassion in psychological well-being, and to cultivate the skills and attitudes that promote compassionate behavior. Gilbert argues that the human brain has evolved to respond to threats with a range of emotional responses, including fear, anxiety, anger, and self-criticism. He suggests that these emotional responses can be helpful in some situations, but they can also create psychological difficulties when they become chronic or excessive. For example, self-criticism can lead to feelings of worthlessness and undermine our confidence and motivation.

CFT aims to help individuals develop a different emotional response to threat and difficulty by cultivating feelings of warmth, kindness, and compassion towards oneself and others. This involves developing a range of skills, such as mindfulness, emotional regulation, and cognitive restructuring, that help individuals to overcome negative self-talk and self-criticism, and to cultivate a more positive and self-affirming attitude. By developing self-compassion, individuals can improve their mental health and well-being and become more resilient in the face of adversity.

What are the benefits of self-compassion?

Kristin Neff, an American psychologist, has been a leading figure in the field of self-compassion research. She defines self-compassion as consisting of three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness involves treating oneself with warmth, understanding, and support rather than self-criticism and self-judgment. Common humanity involves recognizing that suffering and imperfection are universal human experiences and that we are not alone in our struggles. Mindfulness involves being aware of one’s thoughts and emotions without becoming caught up in them or overwhelmed by them.

Neff’s research has shown that self-compassion is associated with a range of psychological benefits, including greater life satisfaction, lower levels of anxiety and depression, and improved coping skills. Moreover, self-compassion has been found to be a more stable and reliable source of self-esteem than self-criticism, which can fluctuate depending on external circumstances.

In conclusion, self-compassion and CFT offer a promising approach to promoting psychological well-being and resilience. By cultivating feelings of warmth, kindness, and compassion towards oneself and others, individuals can reduce negative self-talk and self-criticism, improve their emotional regulation, and become more resilient in the face of adversity. Paul Gilbert and Kristin Neff have made significant contributions to this field and their work continues to inform and shape our understanding of the benefits of self-compassion and compassionate behaviour.

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