Home » Online Therapy » CFT (Compassion-Focused Therapy)

Do you have problems with self-criticism or low self-esteem? Then Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT) can help. Here we explain what CFT is and how it may work for you.

What is compassion-focused therapy?

Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is a therapeutic approach that focuses on increasing and strengthening self-compassion towards oneself and others. This in turn helps to manage and overcome psychological distress and feelings of shame.

CFT belongs to what is known as third wave cognitive behavioural therapy, which integrates insights from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), evolutionary psychology and philosophy. It was first developed by psychologist Paul Gilbert to help people with high levels of self-criticism and low self-esteem. CFT has since been applied to other conditions such as anxiety, depression and trauma.

Through exercises and learning about different principles, the psychologist or therapist can guide the client to increase their self-compassion and promote mental health.

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How does Compassion-focused therapy work?

CFT often begins with a case formulation, which explores why you are seeking help and your history. Next, your therapist may give you information about the treatment and the theory behind it, and then go through goals and work on different exercises to reduce self-criticism and feelings of shame. Additionally, you can do behavioural experiments and role plays to help you achieve your goals.

The basics of Compassion-Focused Therapy are:

  1. Compassion for oneself: Many people have an inner critical voice that can be self-destructive. CFT helps to transform this inner criticism into a voice of compassion and self-support.
  2. Three circular systems: CFT describes three emotional systems: the threat system, the drive system and the soothing system. Therapy focuses on balancing and integrating these systems to promote emotional regulation and well-being.
  3. Compassionate exercises: The client performs exercises and visualizations aimed at reducing feelings of shame and increasing feelings of compassion. This may include creating an inner image of a loving and supportive person or thinking about situations where compassion is present.
  4. Understanding suffering: The method involves an understanding of human suffering and difficulties through an evolutionary and cultural perspective. It sees suffering as part of life and aims to help the client develop a compassionate attitude towards their difficulties.
  5. Self-regulation and balance: The therapy focuses on helping the client to regulate their emotions and balance the different emotional systems to promote psychological flexibility.

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What does the research say about CFT?

More studies on the effectiveness of CFT are needed, as there is not yet much research on this relatively new method. However, existing research shows that CFT is effective in improving self-compassion.


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11 common questions and answers about CFT

What is CFT?

Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is a treatment method that focuses on increasing and strengthening compassion towards oneself and others. This in turn helps to manage and overcome psychological distress and feelings of shame.

How does CFT work?

CFT is a third-wave cognitive behavioural therapy that integrates insights from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), evolutionary psychology and philosophy.

How long is a CFT treatment?

A CFT treatment lasts about 5-15 sessions depending on the problem area and severity.

What can CFT help with?

The method was first developed to help people with high self-criticism and low self-esteem, but it has since been used for other conditions such as anxiety, depression and trauma.

What is shame?

Shame is one of our basic emotions that makes us feel distressed or humiliated about ourselves. If we have shame that is exaggerated or not realistic, we may need help to process the feeling and get a better picture of ourselves.

What is the difference between CBT and CFT?

CFT is partly based on CBT, however it adds elements of evolutionary theory and focuses more on compassion.

What is third-wave CBT?

Third-wave CBT is a newer therapy approach that focuses more on mindfulness, acceptance and compassion, such as CFT and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

What is compassion?

Compassion can be defined as being aware of and sensitive to the emotions and hardships of one’s self and others, and is an element of CFT.

What does research say about CFT?

More studies on the effectiveness of CFT are needed, as there is not yet much research on this relatively new method. However, existing research shows that CFT is effective in improving self-compassion.

Can you get CFT online?

It is possible to receive treatment online via video. Research has shown that the results of the treatment are equivalent to meeting in person.

Where can I get help?

At Lavendla, we have experienced psychologists and therapists who can help you feel better. If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call 911, text or call the national suicide hotline at 988, or go to your nearest emergency room.


Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.