10 CFT Therapy Activities & Exercises to do with your Clients in Therapy

Consider all the relationships you have in your life, and take a moment to reflect on who you communicate with the most. You may have thought of a partner, child, parent, friend, or even a beloved pet. Surprisingly, the person you have the most conversations with is actually yourself. From the moment you wake up until you lay your head to rest, you engage in self-talk. Sometimes, you are gentle and patient, while at other times, you may be your harshest critic. As mental health professionals, we recognize the profound influence our thoughts have on our emotions and behaviors. Understanding this, we strive to address and transform unhealthy thinking patterns. Keep reading to learn 10 CFT Therapy activities and exercises to do with your clients

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Individuals who grapple with negative automatic thoughts often experience anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Cultivating kindness, patience, and self-compassion can be a gradual and challenging process when undertaken alone.

Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT) is a comprehensive and integrative therapeutic approach that transcends specific diagnoses (Craig, C., Hiskey, S., & Spector, A., 2020). Its primary objective is to enhance clients’ capacity for self-compassion, leading to a reduction in their associated distress. As mental health professionals, we can provide the same compassionate support and encouragement that our clients require as they strive to cultivate self-compassion.

Over the past decade, research on CFT has expanded, demonstrating greater support for its efficacy in group settings compared to individual sessions (Craig, C., Hiskey, S., & Spector, A., 2020). Moreover, a minimum of 12 clinical sessions is typically needed to observe a reduction in client distress levels (Craig, C., Hiskey, S., & Spector, A., 2020). Studies indicate that CFT yields positive outcomes when compared to individuals who receive no mental health treatment (Craig, C., Hiskey, S., & Spector, A., 2020).

Why Compassion-Focused Therapy?

Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT) is chosen for several compelling reasons:

  1. Emphasis on Self-Compassion: CFT places a strong emphasis on cultivating self-compassion, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals struggling with self-criticism, low self-esteem, and self-judgment.
  2. Effective for Emotional Challenges: CFT is highly effective for addressing emotional challenges, including depression, anxiety, shame, and self-criticism. It helps individuals develop a kinder and more compassionate relationship with themselves.
  3. Trauma-Informed: CFT is trauma-informed and can be adapted to help individuals with a history of trauma work through their emotional wounds and develop greater self-compassion.
  4. Mindfulness-Based: CFT incorporates mindfulness practices that promote emotional regulation and present-moment awareness, helping individuals manage distressing emotions more effectively.
  5. Emotion Regulation: It provides individuals with tools and techniques to regulate their emotions, reduce emotional reactivity, and respond to difficult situations with greater emotional resilience.
  6. Resilience Building: CFT builds emotional resilience by teaching individuals to nurture their inner resources, develop self-soothing skills, and cope with life’s challenges in a healthier way.
  7. Positive Therapeutic Relationship: CFT emphasizes the therapeutic relationship as a source of compassion and support, creating a safe and empathetic space for clients to explore their emotions.
  8. Customized Treatment: CFT can be tailored to address the specific emotional struggles and concerns of each individual, ensuring that therapy is personalized and comprehensive.
  9. Transdiagnostic Application: While CFT was initially developed for certain emotional issues, it has been adapted to address a broader range of mental health concerns, making it suitable for clients with diverse issues.
  10. Enhanced Self-Acceptance: CFT promotes self-acceptance by helping individuals recognize that they are worthy of compassion and kindness regardless of their flaws or past mistakes.
  11. Long-Term Benefits: Many individuals who complete CFT report long-lasting improvements in their self-esteem, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life.
  12. Cultural Sensitivity: CFT can be applied with cultural sensitivity, respecting diverse cultural perspectives and values.
  13. Complementary to Other Therapies: CFT can be used alongside other therapeutic approaches, enhancing the effectiveness of treatment for a wide range of mental health concerns.
  14. Enhanced Relationships: By developing greater self-compassion, individuals often find that their relationships with others also improve as they become less critical and more understanding of themselves and others.
  15. Holistic Healing: CFT offers a holistic approach to emotional well-being by addressing the cognitive, emotional, and physiological aspects of self-compassion and resilience.

CFT is particularly well-suited for individuals seeking to develop self-compassion, manage difficult emotions, and improve their overall emotional well-being. It offers a compassionate and supportive framework for individuals to transform their relationship with themselves and find greater emotional balance and resilience. Keep reading to learn CFT activities you can do with your clients.

Mental Health Concerns That Can Benefit from Compassion-Focused Therapy

Research has shown that compassion-focused therapy can be used to help individuals who are living with a variety of mental health concerns. More specifically, CFT can help clients who are living with:

  • Eating disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Self-criticism
  • Shame

It is important to note that there is little research on the effectiveness of CFT on an individual basis, and that commonly used interventions can have slight differences in their methods (Craig, C., Hiskey, S. & Spector, A., 2020).

Compassion-Focused Therapy Activities to do with Clients

  1. Spend time exploring enjoyable activities that your client engages in. Encourage them to create a list of known enjoyable activities, and explore how often they are able to engage in these activities. Are there any barriers that keep them from engaging in them more than they are? You can then explore other enjoyable activities that they can incorporate into their routine.
  2. A beneficial compassion-focused therapy activity is a Compassion-Focused Therapy Diary Worksheet that your client can complete each day to track and monitor their ability to introduce compassion practices into their daily routine. It can be hard to keep track of what they do to show themselves compassion each day while they are engaging in their typical day-to-day responsibilities. Having worksheet care relieves the pressure of needing to remember what your client did while in session, and provide them with the opportunity to see their progress outside of sessions.
  3. If you are looking for a structured CFT exercise, you can utilize TherapyPatron.com’s Compassion Formulation Worksheet. You can use this form to guide your session by exploring how your client views themselves and others, and the factors that contribute to their views. By understanding the effect that internal and external factors have, you can help your client better understand the effects of their negative thoughts. This sheet can be used to guide a group therapy session that utilizes CFT.
  4. Clients, and sometimes even we clinicians, can have a hard time teasing out our emotions when we are feeling in one given moment. This typically occurs when we are feeling a combination of emotions that may be uncomfortable or challenging for us to cope with.  When this occurs, we tend to gravitate towards one emotion and put the others on the back burner. As an example, someone may find themselves acting in their anger or frustration rather than their sadness and grief because of the discomfort they feel with their sadness and grief. The consequence of this is that we are not allowing ourselves to feel, or express, the full extent of our emotional experience.
  5. TherapyPatron.com offers a Recognizing Emotions Worksheet that can be used to tease out our client’s different emotions after an event or situation they were faced with. This sheet can be completed while they are experiencing their emotions, or can be completed after the event is resolved. By writing down the specific emotions that they are experiencing, your client can look at the full extent of their emotions in a given situation, and explore how their emotions impacted their behavior. Some clients may benefit from walking through the worksheet during their session and then completing it again on their own once they have gained familiarity with the form.
  6. A commonly used CFT activity is the Compassionate Color exercise. With this activity, you will ask your client to think of a color that they associate with compassion, warmth, and kindness. Once they have their color chosen, your client will then imagine that the color is making its way through various points of their body, bringing and sharing its compassion, warmth, and kindness. Then, encourage your client to draw their attention to the purpose of this activity; the color is bringing them strength and supporting them. TherapyPatron.com offers a Compassionate Color Worksheet that you can use if you would like to follow a worksheet during this activity.
  7. By using the Create a Safe Place Worksheet, you can help your client explore and describe what their safe place is like. This worksheet will tap into their experience regarding their senses to ensure that your client has a clear, and thorough description of their safe place.  Once completed, this worksheet can serve as a reminder of their safe place. You can then explore how your client can incorporate their safe place into their day-to-day life to promote relaxation.
  8. TherapyPatron.com offers a Focusing Compassionate Self on Self worksheet that can be completed with your client during a session. With this worksheet, you can help your client explore ways that they can show themselves compassion throughout their day. This worksheet encourages your client to view themselves from an outside perspective which may shift their typical automatic thoughts. Once you have completed the worksheet, explore any hesitations or barriers that your client shared that may impact their ability to show themselves the kindness they had identified during this compassion-focused therapy exercise.
    Body scans can be a useful compassion-focused therapy activity that can be used in sessions, as well as in our client’s day-to-day life. Similar to other mindfulness practices, body scans can be modified to each client’s specific needs. For this activity, spend time explaining what your client can expect during a body scan exercise, and the common benefits of doing so. Allow for time to process their experience and encourage your client to practice using body scans outside of the session to find relaxation and peace.
  9. Similar to the Compassion-Focused Therapy Diary Worksheet, TherapyPatron.com offers a Compassion-Focused Therapy Thought Balancing Worksheet that can be used outside of the session and brought into the following session to explore and process. The purpose of this form is to track your client’s unhelpful, distressing, and painful thoughts alongside helpful, kind, and compassionate thoughts that can be used to replace their unhealthy automatic thoughts.
  10. A helpful CFT exercise would be to focus on rhythmic breathing. Rhythmic breathing can be a useful tool for relaxation and finding inner peace. This can be useful practice before other compassion-focused therapy exercises, activities, and practices. After talking to your client about the benefits of rhythmic breathing and how to do it, allow time to practice during the session. Encourage your client to use this skill in their day-to-day life, and follow up about their ability to do so in your subsequent sessions.

Final Thoughts On Choosing Activities for CFT

Thank you for reading this resource on 10 CFT therapy activities and exercises to do with your clients. Compassion-focused therapy can be an effective therapeutic intervention for individuals who are living with a variety of mental health concerns. This can be a valuable approach for groups that are composed of individuals who are working through shame, their toughest critics, and those struggling with their moods. Overall, CFT is a promising intervention for mental health professionals to use within their clinical practices.

As with other therapeutic interventions, it is important to ensure that you receive the proper training and education before you begin using CFT with your clients. You can do this by participating in training opportunities and continuing education credits.

TherapyPatron.com helps mental health professionals better serve their clients. Our (editable, fillable, printable PDF) therapy worksheets can help you streamline your practice, effectively deliver different types of therapy, and support your clients be the best version of themselves.

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Resources:

  • Craig, C., Hiskey, S., & Spector, A. (2020). Compassion focused therapy: a systematic review of its effectiveness and acceptability in clinical populations. Expert review of neurotherapeutics, 20(4), 385–400. https://doi.org/10.1080/14737175.2020.1746184
  •  Leaviss, J., & Uttley, L. (2015). Psychotherapeutic benefits of compassion-focused therapy: an early systematic review. Psychological medicine, 45(5), 927–945. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291714002141
Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC
Author: Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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