3 Exercises Based on Compassion-Focused Therapy

3 Exercises Based on Compassion-Focused Therapy
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Exercises based on compassion-focused therapy have the power to deepen your relationships. One of the goals is to encourage well-being and balance. It can be like a huge, wonderful wave that washes over you and gives you relief from your suffering, support, and awareness. 

Many people aren’t familiar with this particular kind of therapy. At first glance it seems more like a set of philosophical principles than scientific ones. Nevertheless, to understand its transcendence we first have to put it into context. Compassion-focused therapy is part of what we call “third wave therapies.”

“Compassion is a foundation for sharing our aliveness and building a more humane world.”

-Martin Lowenthal-

This type of therapy is useful and represents a significant step forward in the field. So often, therapy focuses exclusively on the symptoms of the illness or disorder in question. But compassion-focused therapy goes a little further and looks at deeper questions, basic to us as human beings. So, things like emotions, feelings, and any personal or existential circumstances of the patient are essential points to consider in this kind of therapy.

It’s also important to mention that Paul Gilbert developed compassion-focused therapy based on a synthesis of J. Bowlby’s attachment theory, Buddhist thought, evolutionary psychology of the brain, and theory of mind.

The combination of these principles has as its foundation the value and power of human compassion. It reminds us of our potential for growth, and it is a useful tool to improve our relationships.

Compassion-focused therapy.

3 exercises based on compassion-focused therapy

The concept of compassion goes way beyond philosophy or religion. Sometimes we miss how genuinely transcendent the most ordinary words really are. The word “compassion” represents most of all a quality of life that helps us help ourselves and build a more respectful and human world.

The psychologist Paul Gilbert proposed a wide variety of techniques. This interesting array uses everything from purely behavioral strategies to cognitive, narrative, Gestalt therapy, and mindfulness strategies. So now let’s learn some exercises based on compassion-focused therapy.

1. Make a safe space for yourself

This type of therapy teaches something very important about compassion. You have to start with yourself and go from there. No one can feel compassion for others if they don’t have it for themselves.

Consequently, not only is it important to learn to love yourself, but to also love yourself well. This involves developing certain strengths, intuiting your needs and fears, dealing with your suffering, and stopping intrusive thoughts.

  • In order to do that, you can start with visualization. The goal is to create a safe space for yourself. Create a mental space where you can seek refuge and find peace. There, you can take care of yourself and thus make better decisions.
  • It might help to imagine that you are in a glass house. You are surrounded by a calm sea and soft light illuminating everything. Harmony reverberates in every nook and cranny. All is peaceful. The inside of this glass house is a warm and welcoming place where you feel secure.
  • You can spend a half hour every day in this mental refuge, or as much time as you need. Here, you can talk to yourself kindly and honestly. Leave all the outside noise and your fears at the door.
A luxury room with glass walls on the beach.

2. Working on my compassionate self

Developing your compassionate self is one of the most important compassion-focused therapy exercises. This particular task requires focusing on a certain key ideas.

  • First, be aware of your emotions, needs, and pain.
  • Kindness isn’t something you only practice on others. In fact, it is vitally important that you practice kindness with yourself. For example, it’s important to develop a positive internal dialogue. Don’t be afraid to recognize your internal wounds, weaknesses, and deepest needs.
  • Likewise, you have to understand that a certain degree of suffering is normal. That’s why there’s no need to deny it, hide it, or neglect it.
  • The compassionate self often has to confront the “anxious self,” “obsessive self,” and the “negative self.” This can be difficult work. It means facing your inner enemy who puts up all kinds of walls and barriers. It tries to get in the way of the healing process for your scars.

3. Invigorate the flow of compassion

Another important skill in compassion-focused therapy is invigorating the flow of compassion. What does that mean? Basically, it means letting the compassion you cultivate for yourself flow to others.

You can do this exercise many different ways. But the most important thing is to act from a genuine desire to improve the well-being of others. You have to want to embrace the other person through kindness and recognition. Think of your fellow humans positively and hopefully.

You can create this flow with three very simple mantras:

  • I wish you to be well.
  • I want you to be happy.
  • Finally, I hope that you are free of suffering.
compassion as pictured by holding hands.

In conclusion, this type of therapy isn’t just wishful thinking. Actually, it’s based on an undeniable scientific truth: compassion heals and creates change in ourselves and others. Compassion is a life force capable of quelling fear and anxiety. Let’s put this into practice. Make compassion a deliberate part of your life.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.