Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)

- Formulation

What's formulation got to do with it?

If you go to see a doctor because you’re experiencing pain in your stomach, of course you want them to prescribe something that will stop the pain. But it’s likely you also want something more than that – you (and the doctor) will want to understand what’s causing the pain, so that they’re best placed to suggest what would be most helpful. 

In Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), we’re keen to do something similar with understanding someone’s psychological difficulties – what they are, what might have caused them, and what’s keeping them going. In psychological therapy, this process is often called a formulation. A formulation is a way of using information about a person – for example, the nature of their difficulties and history – and forming an understanding based on psychological theory, to offer hypotheses about the cause and maintenance of their difficulties. 

There are three main types of formulation in CMT, and we’ve outlined a guide for how you can use each of them 

Three types of formulation in CFT

1. Old Brain/New Brain Loops

Understanding how the loops in our mind can lead to distress and struggles.

2. Three System Model

Understanding how our three emotion systems  may lead to difficulties in life.

3. Four Column Formulation

Understanding the link between life experiences, key fears, protective strategies & unintended consequences.

If you’d like to read more about formulations in CFT, you can find examples in the following places:

If you’re a therapist who would like supervision to learn more about how to use formulation in CFT, or how to develop your skills in CFT more generally, take a look here.


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