10 Compassion-Focused Therapy Exercises and Activities to do with your Clients

Out of all the relationships you have in your life, take a moment to think about who it is that you talk to the most. You may have thought about a partner, child, parent, friend, or even a pet. One can argue that the person you speak to the most is actually yourself. From the moment we wake up, until we rest our heads at night, we talk to ourselves. Sometimes we are kind and patient, and in other moments we may be our toughest critic. As mental health professionals, we know that our thoughts have a significant impact on our feelings and behaviors, which can contribute to us trying to correct unhealthy thinking patterns. Keep reading to learn 10 Compassion-Focused Therapy exercises and activities to do with your clients

View all of our Compassion-Focused Therapy Worksheets

Individuals who struggle with negative automatic thoughts may find themselves anxious, depressed, and struggling with low self-esteem. Learning to show ourselves kindness, patience, and compassion can take time and encouragement that is challenging to do on our own.

Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) is a transdiagnostic therapeutic approach that is holistic and integrative in nature (Craig, C., Hiskey, S. & Spector, A., 2020).  As you may have guessed, compassion-focused therapy works to increase clients’ experience with  self-compassion so that they may find a decrease in their related distress. Our clients can often benefit from the same compassion  encouragement we would need as they work to increase their own level of self-compassion.

Research associated with CFT has grown over the past decade and has shown more support for using CFT in a group setting than compared to individual sessions (Craig, C., Hiskey, S. & Spector, A., 2020). Additionally, we know that a minimum of 12 clinical sessions are needed to see a reduction in our client’s level of distress (Craig, C., Hiskey, S. & Spector, A., 2020).  CFT has been shown to have a positive impact when compared to individuals who received no mental health treatment (Craig, C., Hiskey, S. & Spector, A., 2020).

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

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. TherapyByPro 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. TherapyByPro 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  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. 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. TherapyByPro offers a Compassionate Color Worksheet that you can use if you would like to follow a worksheet during this activity. 
  9. Similar to the Compassion-Focused Therapy Diary Worksheet, TherapyByPro 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. If you are looking for a structured CFT exercise, you can utilize TherapyByPro’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.

Final Thoughts On Choosing Activities for CFT

Thank you for reading this resource on 10 Compassion-Focused Therapy exercises and activities 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.

TherapyByPro is an online mental health directory that connects mental health pros with clients in need. If you’re a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your practice listing here. We have assessments, practice forms, and worksheet templates mental health professionals can use to streamline their practice. View all of our mental health worksheets here.

View all of our Compassion-Focused Therapy Worksheets

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 Loibl, MA, LMHC
Author: Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC

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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