Counselling podcast: The Talk Room

Counselling podcast on CFT

Understanding Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)

Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) is a therapeutic approach rooted in the principles of compassion, mindfulness, and acceptance. Developed by psychologist Paul Gilbert, OBE, CFT aims to help individuals cultivate self-compassion, enhance emotional regulation, and overcome psychological challenges such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

Key Principles of Compassion Focused Therapy:

Self-Compassion: At the heart of CFT is the practice of self-compassion, which involves treating oneself with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, especially during times of distress or difficulty. Through guided exercises and interventions, individuals learn to cultivate a compassionate inner voice that counteracts self-criticism and nurtures feelings of warmth and care towards oneself.

Understanding the Threat System: CFT recognizes that the human brain is wired to detect and respond to threats, both real and perceived. However, in individuals struggling with mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, the threat system can become overactive, leading to persistent feelings of fear, shame, and self-criticism. CFT helps individuals understand and regulate their threat system through compassion-focused practices and techniques.

Mindfulness and Emotional Regulation: Mindfulness is a central component of CFT, allowing individuals to cultivate present-moment awareness and non-judgmental acceptance of their thoughts, emotions, and sensations. By practicing mindfulness, individuals can develop greater emotional regulation skills, enabling them to respond to difficult experiences with compassion and resilience.

Building a Compassionate Self-Identity: CFT encourages individuals to develop a compassionate self-identity rooted in qualities such as kindness, courage, and resilience. Through guided imagery, storytelling, and compassionate letter writing, individuals can cultivate a sense of self-worth and belonging based on their inherent value as human beings.

Applying Compassion Focused Therapy in Practice:

Therapeutic Techniques and Exercises: CFT incorporates a range of therapeutic techniques and exercises designed to cultivate self-compassion and enhance emotional well-being. These may include compassionate imagery, compassionate letter writing, mindfulness meditation, and cognitive restructuring exercises aimed at challenging self-critical thoughts and beliefs.

Group Work and Support: CFT can be delivered in individual or group settings, offering opportunities for individuals to connect with others who share similar struggles and experiences. Group-based CFT programs provide a supportive environment where individuals can learn from each other, share insights, and receive encouragement and validation.

Integration with Other Therapeutic Approaches: While CFT is a distinct therapeutic approach, it can be integrated with other modalities such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to address specific mental health concerns. By combining elements of CFT with CBT techniques, therapists can tailor treatment plans to meet the unique needs of each individual.

Counselling podcast episode 2 – Listen here

Counselling podcast on CFT transcript:

So welcome to the Talk In Podcast series Being Your Best Self, the podcast that helps you to fulfil your potential using a range of counselling and therapeutic ideas and techniques.

And for today’s session, I’d like to give a really warm welcome to Wendy Castellino, who have had a had the pleasure of knowing for many, many years.

She’s a real powerhouse in the field of mental health and well-being, having worked in it for for well over 30 years now.

She’s an experienced cognitive behavioural psychotherapist, as well as being really experienced in other modalities and approaches.

Is is well, some of which we’re going to talk about in future podcasts.

But for now, a really, really warm welcome to Wednesday.

Thank you very much, Ian, and a very warm welcome to you as well.

You too are a very experienced psychotherapist who I’ve known for many many years and have specialities and modalities.

One is your speciality and mindfulness, but also you’re very experienced.

Councillor and your accredited councillor as well.

So I look forward to working with you and thank you for that lovely, warm welcome, Ian.

Absolute pleasure, Wendy, and thank you very, very much for that.

So Wendy, I wonder if you could just start by telling us a little bit about what we’re going to talk about today.

Certainly in SO Today the podcast is about Compassion Focused Therapy, or CFT for short.

This therapy was created by a psychologist called Paul Gilbert, who won an award an OBE, for his work in mental health.

There are many components to CFT and today I would just like to concentrate on a few of its points.

So one of the points about CFT is the therapy is learning to take good care of ourselves, especially when we are in distress.

We can learn this by learning techniques and exercises to be more kind and gentle with ourselves.

So for me as a councillor, that sounds really, really interesting and I can I can absolutely see the value of that approach.

But I wonder if for some people that word compassion would concern them.

Does it give the impression of being a little bit, a little bit soft, a little bit fluffy maybe?

Is that is that something that you come across when you’re working with clients?

Yes, Ian Paul Gilbert made the point that the word compassion.

Can be a problem as some people do see it as a bit soft and like you say, a bit fluffy.

But compassion can also mean being strong and courageous and standing up for the things you care about.

If you think about it, some of the best leaders we know were strong leaders were also very compassionate.

For example, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama.

So the idea is by learning to be more compassionate to yourself, this can bring out.

The very best in you.

You can find your strengths and you can build resilience to face challenges rather than back away.

That’s really fascinating and and can you just tell me a little bit about what it is and and how it can help people?

Certainly in SO1 component of CFT is describes us as having three regulation systems.

Paul Gilbert uses 3 coloured circles to represent these systems.

There is the red circle that represents the fight or flight.

The blue circle represents Dr and pleasure and the green circle represents calm, self soothing strategies.

So the idea is that people who feel stressed and anxious spend a lot of time in the red circle.

By learning to be more green we are therefore calmer, feel better and more able to think clearly.

And I love that idea of the of the different coloured circles it it really gives and really clear way of of helping to understand the idea.

So if I if I understand it right, it sounds as though the red circle not so good and the green circle much much better.

Is that is that the kind of idea?

That’s a very good question, Ian.

So Paul Gilbert emphasises that we do need all three systems.

The fight and flight is needed to protect ourselves from harm, so for example learning how to cross the road safely.

However, the red circle does represent the more basic part of the brain, so we tend to activate this part of the brain first.

But by understanding how our brain works, this in itself could be very useful to us to develop our knowledge about how the brain could be very, very useful.

So the idea three circles are important but the real technique is actually learning more the green circle so that we do learn to self soothe and and the green circle is the more the more logical part of the brain is that is that the idea?

Yes, Ian.

Yes, the green part represents the more developed part of our brain at the front of our heads.

Here, but it’s also a nurturing side, which makes a big difference.

If you think about it.

We are mammals and we’re social animals.

Therefore, therefore we care for our young and we care for one another.

So when we do care, the hormone that is released is called oxytocin and it’s the oxytocin that helps us to feel a bond and connect it to others so often when we are caring for others.

Such as our children or our pets, we often feel this lovely sense of warmth and comfort within ourselves.

Yeah, that makes that makes perfect sense.

I can, I can really relate to that that that feeling good, that caring for others idea.

But how does it?

How does it work in terms of helping ourselves?


OK, so that we know why if we just naturally care for others.

This activates this feeling of oxytocin as I described in the green circle.

And this helps us therefore to feel good.

We feel that sense of well-being and self soothing.

Think what?

People don’t realise that in our turbulent world we do spend a lot of time in the red circle.

If you think about it, this could be bad news on television.

Stress at work, being held up in traffic, problems in relationships.

All these situations can increase our stress levels so that just being in the red circle is just like the norm for us nowadays.

It’s been scientifically proven that our brains have a negative bias.

IE we will naturally go to the red circle first as I said before, because it protects us from harm and is therefore dominance.

So therefore we need to actively practise being in the green circle so that we learn to calm and self soothe.

So the problem with the red circle is that we are always in threat.

And the other problem there is that our thinking abilities tend to suffer when we’re in the red circle, white or flight, We feel more confused.

And the reason we feel more confused is our brains focus on the threat.

Fucking give an example of this.

If you have a fear of spiders and you end up being in a room where you suspect there is a spider there, it’s very hard for you to concentrate on anything else.

You’re just naturally focused.

Where’s that spider?

Where’s that spider?

Where there’s that spider?

So that’s what happens when our brains are in threat.

We just don’t think clearly enough.

So by going to the green, using these self soothing strategies helps us to calm down, but also helps us to think a lot more clearly.

Yeah, so I think I I think I get that.

But you mentioned the blue circle, so where does the blue circle fit into that?


Good question, Ian.

So that blue blue circle is also beneficial to our well-being.

This circle often represents times when we are goal focused, so that we’re concentrating on one thing and then when we achieve that goal we get a lovely dose of dopamine that makes us feel good.

Is also where we feel a sense of pleasure in this circle.

So if you’ve achieved a task at work Oregon sports or you’ve got a really good hobby such as making things, you can get that sense of when you finish it.

You get that sense of dopamine, that pleasure and that sense of achievement.

There is also a downside to the blue circle, because if you can think about it, getting that dose of dopamine is really nice and so we can actually get addicted to the dopamine.

So sometimes when we do things like gamble or shopping, that gives us a natural high natural doping and we want it more and more and more.

So again, if we’re not careful, we can get addicted to things in this way.

So it sounds as though it’s all about trying to get that sense of balance between the the three different circles.

Is that is that right?

Yes, well, understood.

And that’s exactly right.

Because if you think about it, if we’re in the green circle all the time, we’d never get anything done.

So we need the blue circle to actually start to drive ourselves and achieve things as well.

So it’s about trying to find a way of being able to make changes between the the three different circles when we need to make those changes and I and I wonder if you can just say a little bit about about how we might go about making some of those changes.

Yeah, certainly, certainly.

So CFT focuses on these techniques and we’ll teach you ways to self soothe.

But I again, I think there is something about being simply aware of your system and what circle you’re in can actually give us a sense of being more controlled in our body.

But if you like, I can give you a practical example of a self soothing technique.

That would be wonderful if you could do that.

I think that would really help with my understanding if I could if I could see it in action.


So the one I’ve chosen is it’s about choosing and remembering a place which you associate with being calm, pleasant and peaceful.

To have no negative associations with it, that’s really quite important.

So you just have to think of a place which you’ve been to.

And ideally, preferably, think of being alone because we don’t want sort of any interference from anything else going on.

And then you simply go through your five senses.

So say for example, you imagine being in a wood.

A lovely, beautiful, calm, peaceful wood.

So what would you see?

You might see the sun coming through the trees.

You might see beautiful greenery on the trees.

You might see some animals.

What do you hear?

You might hear birds singing.

You might hear all different types of things.

What do you smell?

You might smell some Moss.

Underneath your feet would be an example.

What do you feel?

You might feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.

And just by going through the five senses just helps to actually make the experience a little bit more clearer for you as well.

The other thing you can do is you can actually write it down as well in a lot of detail going through the five senses, and that can actually bring up this nice pleasant feeling.

And the other thing you can do, if you’re with somebody who actually has the same memory, you can actually share that memory with them and talk about it together and that can bring the feeling as well.

That’s really fascinating, Wendy.

I could, I could listen to you talking about that for for absolutely ages.

So if I wanted to know more about CFT, Compassion focused therapy, what should I, what should I do?

How would I go about finding out more about it?

Yes, certainly.

So my website is called Wendy C Team.

And if you go on there, there’s plenty of free resources you can just download and find out more information about CFT.

But what about you, Ian?

I’m I know that you have a lot of resources too.

Would you like to say something a little bit?

How to access your resources?


Thank you Wendy.

So I hope therapy and counselling services, which is, which is my practise.

We we have a whole team of councillors throughout the the South of England, so they can be accessed through and and as you say on the website itself there’s a whole range of resources that that people can look at as well.

So thank you for today Wendy.

It’s been, it’s been absolutely fascinating.

It’s been a great pleasure having the opportunity of doing this with you today.

Thank you to Ian.

It’s been nice working with you all the way best.

Thank you.

Bye, bye.

We recognise the importance of providing accessible and comprehensive support for mental health and well-being. In line with this commitment, we have launched our very own podcast series dedicated to counselling, mental health support, and mindfulness.

Counselling Podcasts:
Our counselling podcast episodes delve into a wide range of topics, offering valuable insights, strategies, and advice from licensed mental health professionals. With decades of combined experience in counselling and psychotherapy, our hosts share practical guidance on managing stress, improving relationships, coping with emotions, and navigating life’s challenges with resilience.

Mental Health Support Podcasts:
Our mental health support podcast episodes create a supportive and informative space for individuals to explore and address their mental health concerns. Through personal stories, expert interviews, and discussions on mental health topics, we aim to break the stigma surrounding mental illness and provide listeners with validation, encouragement, and resources for their mental health journey.

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