Compassion-focused therapy is an interdisciplinary approach that “draws from evolutionary, social, developmental and Buddhist psychology, and neuroscience.” (Gilbert, Introducing compassion-focused therapy, 2009)
The main idea behind compassion-focused therapy is that negative emotions such as self-criticism and shame are the root of many emotional problems. Those who experience such dysfunctional emotions can find it difficult to make themselves feel safe and relieved.
The primary goal of compassion-focused therapy is to help clients accept their emotions (positive and negative) and develop compassion-based cognitions (thoughts, beliefs, etc.) that activate the brain’s self-soothing systems. Similar to cognitive-behavioral therapy, this approach draws attention to the negative thoughts that fuel one’s negative emotions. However, the main difference is that compassion-focused therapy focuses heavily on thoughts and beliefs that generate shame and self-criticism. Furthermore, this approach seeks to cultivate positive emotions through visualization and personal affirmations, as opposed to disputing the thoughts that cause negative emotions.
This revolutionary approach that has been built around the concept of compassion has shown promising results in promoting emotional recovery from psychosis (Braehler, et al., 2012), helping individuals with personality disorders improve their condition (Lucre & Corten, 2012), and even reducing the negative consequences of eating disorders (Corinne, Gilbert, Read, & Goss, 2012).
The emergence of this new therapeutic approach is proof that compassion holds a lot of potential for the future of mental health.