CFT and ACT

What is CFT?

Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is a therapeutic approach developed by psychologist Paul Gilbert that aims to enhance compassion for oneself and others. It is rooted in evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and Buddhist philosophy, and it is particularly useful for individuals struggling with self-criticism, shame, and self-judgement.

CFT recognises that human beings have evolved with three main emotional systems: the threat system, the drive system, and the soothing system. The threat system is responsible for detecting and responding to danger, the drive system motivates us to pursue goals and achievements, and the soothing system helps us feel safe, calm, and connected. CFT emphasises the cultivation of the soothing system to counteract the negative effects of a n imbalance in, or overuse of, the threat and drive systems.

What is the CFT therapy process?

The therapeutic process in CFT begins with the development of a strong therapeutic relationship based on trust and safety. The therapist aims to create a compassionate environment in which the client feels accepted and understood. CFT utilises a variety of techniques and exercises to help individuals acquire compassion and self-soothing skills.

Compassionate mind training involves teaching individuals to recognise and challenge their self-critical thoughts and beliefs and instil compassionate and understanding perspectives. Clients learn to develop a compassionate self-identity and a sense of interconnectedness with others.

Another important aspect of CFT is the use of imagery and visualisation exercises. Clients are encouraged to develop compassionate imagery, such as visualising an understanding figure or a safe place, which can help evoke feelings of warmth, safety, and kindness. These exercises can be particularly helpful for individuals who have experienced trauma or have difficulty accessing self-compassion. Mindfulness is also integrated as a way to develop awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness helps individuals observe self-critical thoughts and emotions with curiosity and compassion, rather than becoming overwhelmed or caught up in them.

Does CFT work?

Research has shown that CFT can be effective in a variety of clinical populations, including individuals with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, and chronic pain. It has also been applied in educational settings, organisational contexts, and in promoting well-being and resilience.

Are CFT and ACT the same thing?

No, compassion-focused therapy (CFT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are distinct therapeutic approaches with different theoretical foundations and techniques, although they share some similarities in their emphasis on mindfulness and acceptance.

CFT, as mentioned above, focuses on compassion for oneself and others. It incorporates elements from evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and Buddhist philosophy to address self-criticism, shame, and self-judgment. CFT aims to activate the soothing system and develop a compassionate self-identity.

On the other hand, ACT is a mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioural therapy that emphasises acceptance, mindfulness, and values-based action. It aims to help individuals develop psychological flexibility by accepting their thoughts and emotions rather than trying to eliminate or control them. ACT encourages individuals to align their actions with their values and commit to meaningful goals.

While both CFT and ACT may incorporate mindfulness techniques, CFT places a particular emphasis on compassion and self-soothing skills, while ACT focuses on acceptance and values-based action. CFT is rooted in evolutionary psychology and emphasises the evolutionary functions of the emotional systems, whereas ACT draws on behavioural and cognitive theories.

It’s worth noting that both CFT and ACT have demonstrated effectiveness in various clinical populations and can be used to address a range of mental health concerns. The choice between CFT and ACT would depend on the specific needs and preferences of the individual seeking therapy, as well as the expertise and training of the therapist.

What are the key differences between CFT and ACT therapy?

While compassion-focused therapy (CFT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are both evidence-based therapeutic approaches, they have distinct theoretical foundations and techniques.

Here are some key differences between CFT and ACT:

  • Theoretical orientation: CFT draws heavily from evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and Buddhist philosophy. It emphasises the role of the three emotional systems (threat, drive, and soothing) and focuses on compassion for oneself and others. ACT, on the other hand, is rooted in behavioural and cognitive theories and emphasises acceptance, mindfulness, and values-based action.
  • Focus: CFT primarily aims to address self-criticism, shame, and self-judgement by activating the soothing system and developing a compassionate self-identity. It places a strong emphasis on practising compassion. ACT focuses on promoting psychological flexibility by helping individuals accept their thoughts and emotions, develop mindfulness skills, and align their actions with their values.
  • Techniques: CFT incorporates specific techniques to demonstrate compassion, such as compassionate mind training, imagery, and visualiszation exercises. It also emphasises the development of a compassionate relationship with oneself and others. ACT uses mindfulness-based techniques, acceptance exercises, and cognitive defusion strategies to help individuals develop acceptance and present-moment awareness. It also encourages individuals to clarify their values and commit to value-based actions.
  • Goal: The ultimate goal of CFT is to enhance compassion, reduce self-criticism, and foster a compassionate mindset. In contrast, ACT aims to promote psychological flexibility, which involves being present, open, and engaged with life, while taking actions consistent with one’s values.
  • Emphasis on thoughts and emotions: While both approaches recognise the importance of thoughts and emotions, CFT specifically targets self-critical thoughts and emotions associated with shame and self-judgment. ACT focuses more broadly on developing acceptance and mindfulness skills to relate to all thoughts and emotions with openness and non-judgement.
  • Therapeutic relationship: Both approaches value the therapeutic relationship, but CFT places particular importance on creating a compassionate and supportive therapeutic environment. ACT emphasises the therapist’s role as a facilitator of psychological flexibility and does not prioritise compassion as explicitly.

It’s important to note that these differences should not be seen as mutually exclusive, and there can be overlap between CFT and ACT in certain aspects. Therapists may also integrate techniques from different approaches based on the needs of the individual client. The choice between CFT and ACT depends on the individual’s goals, preferences, and the expertise of the therapist.

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