50 Compassion-Focused Therapy Questions to ask Clients in Therapy Sessions

Take a moment to think about your own experience with self-talk. Are your thoughts kind and compassionate? How often do you experience self-criticism, or speak to yourself in a harsh manner? It is natural for us to have expectations and goals for ourselves that we may not be able to meet sometimes. For some, this experience can lead to harsh criticism and judgment of themselves which can intensify their emotional distress. In this blog, I will highlight 50 Compassion-Focused Therapy questions you can ask clients in therapy sessions.

Compassion- focused therapy, also known as CFT, was developed to help clients who struggle with a variety of mental health concerns with the goal of helping them learn to show themselves and those around them compassion and kindness. We talk to ourselves more than anyone else in our lives, which demonstrates the importance of showing compassion towards ourselves. Research has shown that there is a connection between an individual’s ability to show themselves compassion and their overall quality of life.

View all of our Compassion-Focused Therapy Worksheets

Components associated with compassion-focused therapy include CBT, developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, social psychology, neuroscience, and Buddhist philosophy.  Compassion-focused therapy incorporates Buddhist tradition, including its definition of compassion:

“a sensitivity to suffering in self and others, with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it”

CFT was developed after Paul Gilbert realized that clients who are carrying shame or experience self-criticism may continue struggling with their self-talk while engaging in other forms of psychotherapy. In an ideal world,  we would expect that clients would make notable progress in challenges such as their self-talk and how they judge or perceive themselves. Unfortunately, each client has their own differences and may not have this experience with psychotherapy.

CFT allows clinicians to use impactful strategies that can strengthen their therapeutic relationship while showing empathy, kindness, and support. These tools, combined with a warm approach, are often used in conjunction with other psychotherapy approaches . A goal of CFT is to help your client learn about and cultivate skills needed for compassion including care for themselves including their  well-being, sensitivity, distress tolerance, empathy, and being non-judgmental.

Strategies that you may use with your clients include compassion-focused imagery, thought records, exposure, mindfulness, and breathing exercises.  This approach can be effective for clients who are struggling with shame, self-criticism, anxiety, and complex PTSD.

Getting Ready for Your First Compassion-Focused Therapy Session with a New Client

Therapists who utilize compassion-focused therapy may not notice too many differences from counselors who have other clinical approaches in their first session. You will use your time to learn about your clients experiences and current concerns, while working to develop a strong therapeutic relationship. 

For many of us, taking time to get ourselves organized allows us to feel at ease when we are meeting with a new client. You may find that reviewing your assessments, screeners, and other forms you need to complete allows you to plan your time accordingly.

If you received client information before your session, reviewing these forms can provide you with some insight into your client’s current concerns or challenges.  This can include referrals, self assessments, and screeners that they can complete independently. From here, you can work to plan your time accordingly for your session. 

Depending on the amount of time that you have, you may find it appropriate to incorporate worksheets into your therapy session. Worksheets can act as a guide for therapeutic activities and be used as a resource when clients are at home. Your first session will likely focus on learning about your client’s experiences and developing rapport, so you may not be able to incorporate worksheets until later sessions. 

Examples of compassion-therapy worksheets developed by TherapyByPro that could be beneficial include:

Before you meet with your new client, it may be helpful to spend a minute checking in with yourself and seeing if you have any current needs that could be met. These could be basic needs including a drink and snack, or a simple stretch. If your schedule can accommodate self-care practices, take a moment to engage in a brief activity, such as a breathing exercise, brief meditation, or a mindfulness practice. 

Ensuring that we incorporate self-care into our routine is one way that we can show ourselves the kindness and compassion that we encourage our clients to practice. Engaging in these skills yourself can help you relate to and better understand your clients experience as they attempt to make changes to their own behaviors and thoughts. 

Compassion-Focused Therapy Questions to Ask Clients

Compassion-focused therapy questions can serve a number of purposes in your sessions. These questions can be used to explore your client’s experience, thoughts, concerns, challenges, and successes. Compassion-focused therapy questions can also be used to reinforce new information and ensure that your client understands what you shared with them.

Here are examples of compassion-focused therapy questions to ask in therapy sessions:

  1. Do you notice any changes in your thoughts, feelings, or actions when you show yourself compassion?
  2. Is there any feeling that has been challenging for you?
  3. Can you tell me about the feelings that you have a difficult time sitting with?
  4. Can you describe what it would be like if you showed yourself compassion? How would it feel or sound?
  5. Can you think of how you could show yourself compassion this afternoon?
  6. How could you incorporate compassion into your personal goals?
  7. Can you think of when you started noticing that you were experiencing more negative self-talk?
  8. How often do you experience negative self-talk?
  9. How does your self-talk impact your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors?
  10. Would you speak to a loved one like that?
  11. Why wouldn’t you speak to a loved one in that way?
  12. How would you respond to a loved one who was experiencing a similar challenge or problem? How is this different from how you respond to yourself?
  13. What does self compassion mean to you?
  14. Can you think of a recent time when you showed yourself compassion or empathy?
  15. How often do you use self compassion?
  16. How can you show yourself kindness when you need a break?
  17. What are some signs that you can observe when you would benefit from self-compassion or kindness?
  18. Can you describe a recent experience when you were hard on yourself?
  19. How did your initial reaction to the situation impact how you felt?
  20. Can we explore alternative thoughts to that situation that include more compassion towards yourself?
  21. Who would you describe as compassionate and kind in your life?
  22. What characteristics about that individual contributed to you saying their name?
  23. Can you share with me any characteristics that you share with this individual?
  24. Where do you feel your judgments or thoughts about yourself come from?
  25. What can you tell me about mindfulness?
  26. What has your experience with mindfulness looked like thus far?
  27. Are you open to trying new skills and practices that include compassion and kindness?
  28. Have you been able to incorporate mindfulness into your routine since the last time we met?
  29. What can you tell me about breathing exercises?
  30. Can you describe your experience with breathing exercises thus far?
  31. Have you been able to incorporate breathing exercises into your day since we last met?
  32. Let’s explore a time when you were compassionate and kind towards yourself, what happened?
  33. How did you feel after showing yourself kindness and compassion?
  34. How did the kindness and compassion you showed yourself impact your behaviors?
  35. Have you shown anyone in your life compassion today?
  36. How do you show kindness and compassion to your loved ones?
  37. What impact do you feel that your kindness and compassion have on those around you?
  38. How might you show someone in your life compassion today?
  39. Can you describe a time when you felt that you did not show someone in your life kindness or compassion when you could have?
  40. What can you learn from this experience that can help you respond better in the future?
  41. When I ask you to think of a safe place, what comes to mind?
  42. Who in your life makes you feel safe?
  43. Can you tell me about how you feel you embody wisdom, strength, warmth, and responsibility?
  44. How might you improve your experience with these four qualities?
  45. Can you think of any behaviors that provoke negative or criticizing thoughts?
  46. Can you think of any behaviors that promote positive and encouraging thoughts?
  47. What do you feel the difference is between the two behaviors?
  48. Can you tell me a bit about how you cope with and manage unexpected events or outcomes?
  49. How do you respond when you are unable to meet a goal or deadline that you have for yourself?
  50. How would you describe yourself?

Final Thoughts on Asking the Right Questions in Compassion-Focused Therapy

Thank you for reading this resource on 50 Compassion-Focused Therapy questions you can ask clients in therapy sessions. Compassion-focused therapy is a great approach that can be used with clients who are living with a variety of mental health concerns. CFT can help improve a client’s overall quality of life if they have a hard time giving themselves a break. Additionally, compassion-focused therapy can have a positive impact on our client’s interpersonal relationships by improving their ability to show kindness and compassion to others.

If you have found our article on compassion-focused therapy to be intriguing, or you have found yourself thinking of clients that could benefit from CFT, we encourage you to look into Continuing Education courses and other training opportunities near you!

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:

  • 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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