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

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

What is compassion-focused therapy?

Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is a therapeutic approach that focuses on increasing and strengthening self-compassion, both towards oneself and others, and thus managing and overcoming psychological distress and feelings of shame.

It 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, but has since been applied to other conditions such as anxiety, depression, trauma and other psychological difficulties.

Through exercises and learning about different principles, the psychologist can guide the client to increase their compassionate attitude and promote mental health.

What set our therapist apart was her genuine empathy and personal insight. Not only did she possess a deep understanding of neurodiversity, but she also shared personal experiences that resonated with us, creating an instant connection and fostering a sense of trust!

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How does Compassion-Focused Therapy work?

CFT therapy often begins with a case formulation, which explores your history and why you are seeking help. Then, you may be given information about the treatment and theory behind it, before setting goals and working on different exercises to reduce self-criticism and feelings of shame, for example. You can also do behavioural experiments and roleplay to create the desired change.

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 safety system. The therapy focuses on balancing and integrating these systems to promote emotional regulation and well-being.
  3. Compassionate exercises: This includes exercises and visualisations aimed at reducing feelings of shame and increasing feelings of compassion. Examples could 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: This focuses on helping the client regulate their emotions and balance the different emotional systems to promote psychological flexibility.

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What does the research say about CFT?

There is not much research on CFT, as it is a relatively new method, but as it grows, more studies will happen. Compassion has been shown, however, to be a skill that can be trained, allowing you to feel better in your life.


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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, both towards oneself and others, and thus managing and overcoming 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 programme 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, anxiety, depression, trauma and other psychological difficulties.

What is shame?

Shame is a basic emotion that tells us something wrong. If we have exaggerated shame which is not realistic, help may be required to process these feelings and get a better picture of ourselves.

What is the difference between CBT and CFT?

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

What is third wave CBT?

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

What is compassion?

Compassion is an element of CFT that has been found to be helpful.

What does research say about CFT?

There is not much research on CFT, as it is a relatively new method, but as it grows, more studies will happen. Compassion has been shown, however, to be a skill that can be trained, allowing you to feel better in your life.

Can you get CFT online?

Lavendla’s therapists hold meetings by video conference. Research has shown this treatment delivery is just as effective as meeting in person.

Where can I get help?

Lavendla has experienced psychologists and therapists ready to help you feel better. In an acute mental health crisis, call 111, or visit 111.nhs.uk, immediately. It is important to receive urgent assistance in such situations.


Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.