Self-Compassion: What Exactly Is Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT)?

Mental illness can rob us of so much. It can strain our relationships, upset our professional and academic lives and deplete our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. However, it can also rob us of something just as important and extremely intimate: our compassion toward ourselves and our compassion toward those around us. This is why compassion-focused therapy (CFT) can be so impactful when integrated into a mental health recovery plan.

Compassion is such a critical part of our lives that when we lose it, it can be devastating. Self-compassion is self-love; when that love is blocked, it can feel like nothing else matters. Like there is nowhere else to turn. However, that is simply not the case. Help is always available.

There are recovery centers that make it their primary purpose to help individuals recover. Not just treat their disorder but to get past that and help the individual get well in the long-term, not just get better at the moment. While many treatment modalities can help make this happen, integrating CFT alongside other evidence-based and experiential treatments can make for a highly successful and sustainable recovery plan.

What Is CFT?

CFT is a relatively new concept to the recovery realm, having only been established two decades ago by British psychologist Paul Gilbert. Ultimately, it is founded on the belief that encouraging compassion towards the self and others will help individuals manage their moods and gain the coping skills that will help minimize anxiety and increase self-acceptance.

However, it is also important to understand that CFT does not stand solely on its own premise. It is a collection of concepts, theories, and therapies that have been integrated to make CFT a comprehensive treatment modality. These components are taken from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, social psychology, neuroscience, and Buddhist philosophy.

Out of all of those components, arguably the most influential is the integration of CBT. So much so that CFT is not only influenced by CBT but is regularly utilized alongside it in a mental health recovery plan.

Understanding CBT

The peer-reviewed journal, Cognitive Therapy and Research explains that CBT “refers to a class of interventions that share the basic premise that mental disorders and psychological distress are maintained by cognitive factors” and “that maladaptive cognitions contribute to the maintenance of emotional distress and behavioral problems.” An oversimplification of this, but perhaps a clarified explanation of this, is that an individual’s thoughts both maintain and exacerbate aspects of their mental health disorder, and these thoughts lead to unwanted and potentially detrimental behaviors.

The goal then of CBT is to create strategies to better cope with these unhelpful thought patterns. In doing so, the individual will gain better control over their behaviors and become less symptomatic and more engaging in their everyday lives.

One can see how CBT and CFT can work well together because negative thought patterns that lead to the loss of compassion are certainly a set of patterns that could use strategic change. When an individual gains a better understanding of where this lack of self-compassion is coming from cognitively, they can then begin to change their behaviors that compound and continue its vicious cycle.

What Does an Integrated Recovery Plan With CFT Look Like?

One key to any mental health recovery plan is that it be customized to the individual. This may sound obvious, but many recovery centers offer very one-dimensional treatment plans. These recovery centers are not taking into account the unique nature of everyone’s story. It is important to remember that an individual should never be defined by the disorder that they are struggling with.

Another key to a mental health recovery plan is that it be comprehensive and multifaceted. Just as we previously mentioned, with the prevalence of CBT and CFT being utilized together, many other modalities also work wonders for recovery when integrated into an individual recovery plan. Many of these modalities are evidence-based therapies like CBT and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). However, there are many other highly beneficial treatment methods. Some of these methods include:

  • Art therapy
  • Cinema therapy
  • Movement therapy
  • Reiki
  • Nutrition therapy (especially for individuals struggling with eating disorders)
  • Narrative therapy
  • Nature experience therapy

The Importance of Sustainable Long-Term Recovery

As with any respectable recovery plan, a plan that includes CFT should always have the long-term in mind. As previously mentioned, “recovery is about getting well. Not just better.”

The Dalai Lama once stated that “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Reading that, it’s not difficult to see why CFT also pulls from Buddhist philosophy. CFT can help us regain the self-compassion and compassion for others that mental illness tries to take from us, and everyone deserves to feel compassion in their lives. It is a fundamental part of what gives life meaning.


Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP), supported housing, and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up of all genders. To learn more or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today at (888) 592-1817.

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