CFT is grounded in current understanding of basic emotion regulation systems: the threat and self-protection system, the drive and excitement system, and the contentment and social safeness system. Treatment sessions highlight the association between these systems and human thought and behaviour. The aim of CFT is to bring these three affect systems into balance.
In 2006 Gilbert founded the Compassionate Mind Foundation, based in Derby, UK. He published The Compassionate Mind: A New Approach to Life's Challenges in 2010 and was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2011 for his contributions to the field of mental health care.
HOW DOES CFT WORK?
According to CFT theory, the threat, drive, and contentment systems evolved throughout human history in order to facilitate survival. Early humans were eager to avoid or overcome threats, seek resources such as food or intimacy, and enjoy the benefits of being part of a social community. Proponents of CFT suggest these systems are still active and affect human emotions, actions, and beliefs today. If a threatening stimulus is received, for example, a person may experience different feelings (such as fear, anxiety, or anger), exhibit various behaviours (submission or a fight or flight response), and develop certain cognitive biases (jumping to conclusions, stereotyping, or assuming it is always better to be safe than sorry).
The drive system endeavours to direct individuals toward important goals and resources while fostering feelings of anticipation and pleasure. People with an over-stimulated drive system may engage in risky behaviours such as unsafe sexual practices or drug and alcohol abuse.
The contentment system is linked with feelings of happiness. These feelings are not associated with pleasure seeking, nor are they merely present due to an absence of threats. Rather, this state of positive calm is typically tied to an awareness of being socially connected, cared for, and safe. This soothing system acts as a regulator for both the threat and drive systems.
TECHNIQUES AND EXERCISES IN CFT
The primary therapeutic technique of CFT is compassionate mind training (CMT). CMT refers to the strategies typically used to help individuals experience compassion and foster different aspects of compassion for the self and others. CMT aims to develop compassionate motivation, sympathy, sensitivity, and distress tolerance through the use of specific training and guided exercises designed to help individuals further develop non-judging and non-condemning attributes.
People in therapy might learn:
- Appreciation exercises, or activities emphasising the things an individual enjoys. These exercises may include making a list of likes, taking time to savour the moment when something enjoyable is noticed, and other positive rewarding behaviours.
- Mindfulness, or the ability to pay attention to the current moment in a non-judgmental manner.
- Compassion-focused imagery exercises, or the use of guided memories and fantasies to first stimulate the mind and then the physiological systems. The goal of compassion-focused imagery exercises is the production of a relational image that stimulates the soothing system.
When people experience difficulty related to feelings of self-attack, the therapist can assist them in exploring the functions and possible origins of these attacks, as well as possible reasons individuals may agree with or submit to them. This process may include visualisation of the self-attacking aspect as a person. People in therapy may be asked to describe what the "person" looks like and any feelings it evokes in order to better understand the self-criticism.
Those who have difficulty experiencing and/or expressing compassion may be asked questions designed to help them explore and remedy any factors potentially contributing to blockages preventing the expression of compassion.
ISSUES TREATED WITH CFT
CFT can be helpful to people who find it challenging to understand, feel, or express compassion, as therapy can be a safe place in which to discover any reasons behind this difficulty and explore methods of positive change. This type of therapy can also be effective at helping people manage distressing thoughts, behaviours, and feelings of any kind but may be particularly helpful when dealing with feelings associated with self-attack.
Other concerns treated with CFT include:
CFT can be helpful to people who find it challenging to understand, feel, or express compassion, as therapy can be a safe place in which to discover any reasons behind this difficulty and explore methods of positive change.