Dr. Paul Gilbert is the creator of Compassion-Focused Therapy or CFT. CFT is a form of therapy that focuses on changing on not only on what a person thinks, but how they think. The problem that Paul noticed with other therapies was that when highly self-critical people tried to change how they think, they had an underlying self-critical tone to their thoughts. So that’s where Paul realized one of the problems with Cognitive Therapy: their thoughts are still cold and self-critical. What they need is warmth and love.
So he used compassion exercises that Buddhists used for thousands of years.
More information on Compassion-Focused Therapy can be found here.
I’m very happy that I had the opportunity to speak to him. I hope you guys enjoy.
"The non-empathic person puts a gun to your head and says, 'Tell me your secrets or I’ll kill you.' The empathic one puts the gun to your child’s."
KB: What is compassion?
PG: It’s a sensitivity to the suffering of self and others and a commitment to do something about it.
People seem to think that compassion is about empathy. Empathy is a component of compassion. But for compassion, you have to have some degree of motivation. What you pay attention to has to move you.
The worst torture is empathetic. The non-empathic person puts a gun to your head and says, 'Tell me your secrets or I’ll kill you.' The empathic one puts the gun to your child’s.
KB: What is Compassion-Focused Therapy?
PG: I don’t know if you’ve heard of a therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The foundation of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy lies in two principles. First, people get caught up in a loop between thinking and feeling. They think negatively, then feel negatively, then think negatively. So you help them to look at how they’re thinking and then to find ways in which you try and change it. For example, a patient may think, 'I’ve never succeeded in anything.' If you focus on that, you’re going to feel miserable. So what Cognitive Therapy does is say, 'let’s look at the evidence for that. Has everything in your life been a failure?'
The problem is that while some patients can do that, but the tone of their thoughts is very harsh and critical.
So what I was interested in with was to help patients to be supportive, kind, and encouraging to themselves. Imagine, for example, a depressed person trying to get out of bed in the morning. It makes a big difference in how you think that. If you think 'Get out of bed you lazy sod,' it’s very different from an encouraging, supportive, and kind voice like 'Come on, depression is horrible, but let’s see what would happen if you get out of bed.' So we were trying to help people develop this experience of generating support and kindness inside of themselves. It’s the emotional textures that are important and not just the thoughts.
Compassion is like the oil in the system.
"When we fully realize how and why we did not design much of what goes on in our minds, we can then take responsibility in new ways and learn how to live in and work with such a mind." - Paul Gilbert in The Compassionate Mind
KB: What is the evolutionary basis of CFT?
PG: The evolutionary model is that attachment is a primarily, but not completely, a mammalian behaviour. You don’t see it very much in reptiles. They don’t form bonds with their children, and they don’t form bonds with each other. But our bonds are very important for emotional regulation.
Over the last 120 million years, mammals have been evolving capacities to take joy from affiliative relationships. Joyfulness and the feeling of safeness are often regulated through feeling connected, feeling part of a group, feeling people value you. That they like you and look forward to seeing you. Those are the things that are going to help you feel safe and able to deal with threats.
KB: What about the philosophical foundation of CFT?
PG: All of the basic building blocks for life were created in stars. The potential for life within the Universe began when the Universe began.
What it means in terms of consciousness is that all of us just find ourselves here. We have no idea why. We’re all caught in the flow of life. None of us chose to have to life we have.
When you look at it, we’re just a consciousness that seems to flutter for a bit. For a few decades this fluttering of consciousness is aware of anger, violence, pain, happiness, joy, and then it goes off again.
So the philosophical issue is the implication of being the only species that can be aware of this. We are aware that we are aware. Our consciousness is both part of the material world and not a part of it. But we can wake up and decide if we want arbitrary forces to shape ourselves or if we want to be the best version of ourselves.
If you enjoyed this interview, check out the interview with Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, The Yoga of Eating, The Ascent of Humanity, and The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible.
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