Why Choose Compassion-Focused Therapy
I believe compassion is one of the strongest healing forces for humanity at this time. I often explain that although mindfulness, awareness, and recognition are often the first steps on the healing journey, compassion is where the healing is. Like the medicinal ingredient in a healing balm, compassion is where mending, change, and transformation occurs.
Compassion is the feeling of care and desire to relieve suffering within another or oneself. It’s not sympathy, and it’s more than a comforting expression. Compassion both draws upon and goes beyond qualities of empathy, tolerance, acceptance, and understanding. And it is recognized as a core aspect of well-being. A compassion-focused therapist helps clients by holding a safe and compassionate space, extending compassion in the therapeutic relationship, as well as teaching and modeling compassion-based skills and tools that promote mental and emotional healing.
Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) was developed by psychologist Dr. Paul Gilbert, and has been highly researched by sought-after clinicians and researchers like Kristin Neff, PhD who influences much of my approach to psychotherapy as a compassion-focused therapist. What I find most impactful about Neff’s research is it shows that self-compassion is significantly more effective in motivating behavioral and emotional change than self-criticism which many of us are more versed in. Shame and criticism are often used by well-meaning parents and caregivers as a way to motivate children to behave or perform in some way. Although this approach can be effective, it comes with painful side effects like developing a harsh inner critic, anxiety, poor self-esteem and low self-worth. And, a part of us will continue to suffer.
Integrating aspects of Buddhist philosophy, cognitive behavioral therapy, developmental psychology, and neuroscience, a compassion-focused therapist helps people with the following issues just to name a few:
- Shame and self-criticism
- Self-esteem, codependency, and people-pleasing
- Mood and emotion regulation
- Insecure attachment styles
- Disordered eating
- Anger management
- Relationship issues
In my practice, CFT works in two ways. The first layer of healing occurs through the active compassion of the therapist. The therapist models and offers compassionate, warm, and supportive interactions with you in session. This helps with co-regulation which is the interpersonal process of soothing and managing our moods and emotions. Over time, you may internalize your therapist’s voice of compassion and find yourself speaking to yourself in the same way. This also helps to create safety and build secure attachment. The second layer of healing comes from learning the skills and tools taught by the therapist. A compassion-focused therapist uses mindfulness, guided meditations and visualizations, journal prompts, and somatic techniques to teach practices that help you develop compassion for yourself and others.
So much becomes possible when we develop a compassionate inner voice that can extend kindness and support toward ourselves and others. We gain internal strength and resource that helps us self-soothe through difficult emotions, connect to a sense of safety within, shift into a secure attachment style, and move toward self-love and worthiness. And when we can be compassionate with parts of ourselves we struggle with, our relationships improve because we are more able to be accepting, kind, patient, and understanding with those parts of others.
Where I see clients often get stuck in therapy is the dissonance between the “logical” part of us that “knows better” and the “emotional” part of us that feels different in our body. It can sound like “I know my fear/insecurity isn’t true, but I can’t help but feel like it is!” or “even though I know better, I still feel it in my body.” This happens because cognitive-behavioral techniques only take us so far. We can learn new ways of thinking and that can be helpful, but it doesn’t address the stored emotional wounds we quite literally feel in the body. Compassion has the power to impact us on a deeper level by speaking directly to our hurt parts that are in need of support, kindness, and unconditional love- not new thoughts.
A common misconception about self-compassion is that it’s associated with weakness and passivity. In addition to the research showing that it in fact works to effectively motivate us and build emotional strength, I encourage you to consider that there are two kinds of self-compassion coined by Neff. There is the yin quality of tender self-compassion that looks like practicing self-kindness and acceptance, and there is the yang quality of fierce self-compassion that looks like taking action, such as speaking up for yourself or setting a healthy boundary.
Imagine a life where you related to yourself and others with more love, compassion, and kindness over criticism, judgment, and shame. How might you feel about yourself? How would you move through the world? What might you be able to accomplish? How might your relationships be different?
Try this: Take a deep breath, place your hands over your heart, and ask yourself the classic self-compassion question, what do I most need right now?
Remember, compassion is a practice. It’s a skill that is nurtured over time, and it is most effective when experienced in a safe and supportive relationship like the one with your therapist. Book a consultation if you’d like support with this. In the meantime, I’ve created a guided meditation to help you cultivate self-compassion. You can access it by signing up for my emails in the footer down below.