Compassion focused therapy

Compassion focused therapy is becoming more and more popular, amongst therapists and clients. It can help to deal with many issues affecting our lives: our relationships, any emotional distress we may be experiencing, anxiety, depression, self-harm and so on. 

Compassion is considered to help free the mind from negative emotions such as jealousy and fear. In Buddhism, for example, compassion is viewed as loving-kindness, to relieve the suffering of the self and of others. Compassion acknowledges the suffering that we experience, alongside the suffering of others, and it is through this acknowledgement that perhaps we learn to tolerate distress and to better accept ourselves.

Compassion focused therapy involves understanding how the brain works and developing a compassion focused approach to the challenges of being human. Evolutionary science suggests that the human brain has evolved in such a way as to sometimes produce difficult emotions in humans, like anger or jealousy. Basically, there are three types of emotional regulatory systems in our bodies: a drive/excite/vitality system which involves wanting, pursuing and achieving; a content/safe/connected system that is experienced as soothing, and a threat focused system that is about protection and safety seeking. Compassion focused therapy raises awareness within individuals about the nature of their brains and bodies and how individuals’ threat systems can be over-stimulated. Techniques to encourage social safeness are promoted in order to encourage our soothing systems. 

Breathing and mindfulness techniques comprise a significant aspect of compassion focused therapy.  Individuals are encouraged to learn and practise how to breath and then to practice mindful breathing, which is finding a pattern that feels natural and soothing. Compassion focused therapy also encourages people to imagine images or events that help elicit compassionate feelings, for example, imagining an experience of kindness from another person. Safe space imagery is common, encouraging people to imagine a place that gives a feeling of safeness, calm and contentment.

Compassion focused therapy encourages compassion towards the self as much as towards others, and so through this people can start to view themselves from a position of understanding rather than self-criticism. Self-criticism is likely to be a major issue for clients. Stress, trauma and depression - these can all impact upon the body and the mind, influencing how individuals view themselves, with these conditions often involving people viewing themselves negatively. A core aspect to compassion focused therapy is working with the ‘inner critical voice’, to become more compassionate and kind towards this as a way of self-acceptance.

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