Compassion Focussed Therapy

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

– Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Compassion is best understood as the ability to recognize suffering, to feel empathy for those who suffer, and to feel moved to comfort, help or alleviate that suffering.

Many clients who present for psychological help struggle to feel safe or reassured. Many are plagued with feelings of self-doubt, shame, self-criticism, a lack of belonging, and a feeling of never being good enough. It is believed that the system that regulates our emotional sense of safety, reassurance and wellbeing evolved in our attachment relationships with others in our lives. The context of the therapeutic relationship is a safe place where clients can learn this system of emotional self-regulation.

One of the first steps in compassion focussed therapy is to help you to recognize your own feelings so that you are able to cope with them. Many of us endure a plethora of uncomfortable emotions without being able to name our feelings. This can cause overwhelm and the stress of attempting to cope with the unknown can prevent us gaining accurate insight into the causes of our feelings. Compassion Focussed Therapy aims, first of all, to help clients become emotionally self-aware.

Only when we are aware of how we feel can we respond compassionately to our own feelings.

Only when we are aware of our own feelings can we empathise with others in our social worlds.

Only when we are aware of our needs in life, can we do something to ensure that they are met.

Compassion is more easily imagined if you think of yourself as a capable parent and your feelings of discomfort as being those of a young infant or child. This is not to suggest that our emotions are childish, but rather to demonstrate how to cope when we feel vulnerable or distressed. A child’s distress signals are easily recognized by his or her parent; and parents feel moved to respond to their child’s distress. Furthermore, both parent and child are confident that their actions will bring reassurance and comfort, or increase the child’s tolerance of unavoidable stress, thus restoring the child to a state or equilibrium and safety, and facilitating the child’s passage through life’s inevitable ups and downs.

Some people have very high levels of shame and self-criticism. It is thought that they are more likely to pay attention to and react to threat (both internal and external) and less able to access the mechanism of self-care and reassurance. Compassion Focussed Therapy helps people to become more attuned to and better able to access an internal ability to self-soothe or be compassionate towards oneself. Compassion Focussed Therapy is not about dismissing the very real causes of threat to our safety, or our feelings of doubt, discomfort, or shame. But it does enable us to tolerate and be compassionate with ourselves at those times in our lives when we experience uncomfortable feelings. Self-compassion also enables us to relinquish unnecessary feelings of shame, unwarranted feelings of threat, and self-critical behaviours.

Compassion Focussed Therapy draws on evolutionary, social, developmental and neuropsychological science, as well as Buddhist psychology, to train people to be able to sooth themselves, create safety in their lives, and learn increased compassion towards self and others. Much of the therapy at The Compassion Foundation draws on the non-violent philosophy of ahimsa inherent in veganism.