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 the method entails and how a treatment can work.

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 behavioral therapy, which integrates insights from cognitive behavioral 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.

The Compassionate Mind Foundation (UK) states that “Research has now revealed how our capacities for compassion evolved, how it works in our bodies and our brains, and when cultivated, is a source of courage and wisdom to address suffering.” 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!

Benedetta Osarenk


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How does Compassion-Focused Therapy work?

CFT therapy often begins with a case formulation, which explores why you are seeking help and your history. You may then be given 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, for example. You can also do behavioral experiments and role plays 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: The client performs exercises and visualisations 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?

There is not yet much research on CFT as it is a relatively new method but it is growing and more studies are needed. However, it has been indicated that compassion is a skill that can be trained and that allows 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 behavioral therapy that integrates insights from cognitive behavioral 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, anxiety, depression, trauma and other psychological difficulties.

What is shame?

Shame is one of our basic emotions that tells us there is something wrong with us. 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 but it 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 yet much research on CFT as it is a relatively new method but it is growing and more studies are needed. However, it has been seen that compassion is a skill that can be practiced and that allows you to feel better in your life.

Can you get CFT online?

It is possible to receive treatment digitally 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, contact 112 or the 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.