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Underlying principles of Compassion-Focused Therapy

Informed by the Buddhist philosophy, Third wave models of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical-Behaviour Therapy and Compassion-Focused Therapy hold a common view that emotional suffering occurs when creative means of surviving difficult life events become repeated and fixed, and are no longer of service to the client. The psychotherapist works with the client to identify and validate the impact of significant life events, and the role that inhibiting or destructive ways of coping have helped the client to endure adverse experiences. Within a warm and transparent therapeutic relationship, Third wave approaches value using mindfulness, acceptance and compassion to cultivate flexibility in order to foster change, wellbeing and increased autonomy. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical-Behaviour Therapy and Compassion-Focused Therapy are also unique in their approach, more information about each approach is given below. Depending on how the client views their struggles, needs and hopes for the therapeutic process, the therapist can work from one approach or draw upon beneficial aspects from each approach.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy aims to make room for the client to explore what is of most importance within different life domains. This is used to navigate the course of therapy. The psychotherapist may use record sheets, metaphors and experiential exercises to assist the client to develop insight into problematic patterns of behaviour, as well as to cultivate an ability to willingly experience inhibiting and unwanted internal experiences in order to foster opportunities to take valued action and increase fulfilment in life.

Evidence for efficacy of Compassion-Focused Therapy:

Compassion-Focused Therapy has been found to alleviate the impact of shame and self-criticism across a number of presenting issues. The research shows a reduction in symptoms of depression, anxiety, eating issues, personality disorders and psychosis, amongst others, with continued improvements to wellbeing following the end of treatment (Braehler et al, 2013; Gale et al, 2014; Gilbert and Proctor, 2006, Lucre and Corten, 2013).

Issues Compassion-Focused Therapy can help with:

Shame and self-criticism have been found to be prevalent across different manifestations of psychological distress and diagnoses. Compassion-Focused Therapy can be helpful for presentations of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating issues, self-harm and psychosis. This approach can also help to overcome submissive or aggressive ways of being in relationships with others and seeks to improve connectedness and self-expression within personal relationships. Compassion-Focused Therapy can also help with developing self-acceptance and the ability to care for oneself in times of distress.

Benefits of Compassion-Focused Therapy:

People find that this type of therapy can help them to

  • Understand and validate the impact of difficult experiences in the past such as bullying, abuse, or having a lack of affection during childhood
  • Improve the ability to feel self-understanding, self-kindness and self-sooth during times of stress
  • Develop accepting and positive views of self and others
  • Improve openness and connectedness within healthy relationships
  • Feel comfortable to assert needs
  • Enhance motivation and self-development

Individuals Compassion-Focused Therapy is suited to:

Compassion-Focused Therapy can be beneficial for individuals who feel stifled and inhibited by mild to severe levels of self-criticism and shame, and which may have lead to harmful ways of coping. It is helpful for people who experience low self-acceptance, problems within relationships, substance abuse, depression and anxiety. Compassion- Focused Therapy can help individuals overcome fears of bringing a truer sense of themselves into relationships with others, as well as to situations at work or in education. This approach can also help to improve individuals’ capacity to self-sooth in times of distress as well as increase motivation to pursue personal goals.

Therapists who practice using this model

Dr Sophia Gazla (BSc, MRes, DCounsPsych, CPsychol)

Dr Gazla’s therapeutic approach is best described as pluralistic. Rooted in Humanistic and Existential psychotherapy values, Dr Gazla places a great importance on developing a trusting and collaborative therapeutic relationship to work with clients’ hopes and needs for the therapy process. This may include offering a safe space for clients to express and explore their difficulties confidentially, to work relationally to better understand how past relationships have influenced present ways of interpreting and relating to others and the world, or to focus on developing helpful strategies and skills to improve wellbeing. Dr Gazla draws upon contemporary ‘Third Wave’ Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques that can help to understand and reduce harmful behaviours and improve relationships with oneself and others, as well as foster psychological health and valued living. Dr Gazla applies these approaches to work effectively with issues such as anxiety, depression, eating issues, addiction, intrusive thoughts, harmful behaviours, medically unexplained symptoms, relationship problems, as well as general life challenges, in short-term or long-term therapy.

References

Braehler, C., Gumley, A., Harper, J., Wallace, S., Norrie, J., & Gilbert, P. (2013). Exploring change processes in compassion focused therapy in psychosis: Results of a feasibility randomized controlled trial. British Journal of Clinical Psychology52(2), 199-214.

Gale, C., Gilbert, P., Read, N., & Goss, K. (2014). An evaluation of the impact of introducing compassion focused therapy to a standard treatment programme for people with eating disorders. Clinical psychology & psychotherapy21(1), 1-12.

Gilbert, P., & Procter, S. (2006). Compassionate mind training for people with high shame and self‐criticism: Overview and pilot study of a group therapy approach. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy13(6), 353-379.

Lucre, K. M., & Corten, N. (2013). An exploration of group compassion‐focused therapy for personality disorder. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice86(4), 387-400.

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