Key Principles and Concepts of Compassion-Focused Therapy

Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT) is a therapeutic approach developed by Dr. Paul Gilbert, a clinical psychologist, to help individuals who struggle with issues related to self-criticism, shame, low self-esteem, and difficulties in managing their emotions. CFT is rooted in evolutionary psychology, attachment theory, and cognitive-behavioral principles, with a strong emphasis on the cultivation of self-compassion.

Compassion-Focused Therapy is effective for a range of mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, trauma, and self-esteem issues. It provides individuals with practical tools and strategies to enhance self-compassion, reduce self-criticism, and improve emotional well-being.

Key principles and concepts of Compassion-Focused Therapy include:

Three Emotional Regulation Systems

CFT proposes that human beings have three emotional regulation systems:

  • Threat System: Activated in response to danger and helps with fight-or-flight responses.
  • Drive System: Associated with pursuing goals, ambition, and achievement.
  • Soothing System: Involved in calming and self-soothing, often associated with feelings of contentment and compassion

Self-Criticism and Shame

CFT recognizes that many individuals struggle with self-criticism and shame, which can lead to a range of psychological problems, including anxiety, depression, and relationship difficulties.


Compassion in CFT is a vital emotional experience that can soothe and counteract the effects of self-criticism and shame. It involves responding to oneself and others with kindness, warmth, and understanding, even in the face of mistakes or shortcomings.

Compassionate Mind Training

CFT involves specific exercises and interventions to help clients cultivate self-compassion and activate their soothing system. These may include visualization exercises, guided imagery, and self-compassion practices.


When helping people using CFT, we integrate mindfulness practices to help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Mindfulness enhances the ability to observe and change self-critical thoughts and behaviors.

Exploration of Personal History

CFT often involves exploring an individual’s personal history to identify early experiences that may have contributed to the development of self-criticism and shame. This exploration can provide insights into the origins of these issues.

Emotion Regulation

CFT helps clients develop emotion regulation skills to manage difficult emotions, such as anger, fear, and sadness, in a compassionate way.

Self-Compassionate Motivation

We encourage clients to engage in self-improvement and goal-setting from a place of self-compassion rather than self-criticism. This can lead to more sustainable and positive changes.

Compassionate Imagery

Clients may be guided to create and use compassionate imagery, such as a compassionate inner mentor or a safe place, to help them access their soothing system during challenging times.


CFT seeks to integrate different parts of the self, fostering harmony and balance between the various emotional regulation systems.

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