Eating Disorder Recovery: Healing Through Compassion Focused Therapy

The experience of an eating disorder is often marked with self-criticism, self-directed hostility and shame. Many times these negative cognitions are perpetuated by an individual’s underlying belief that he/she does not deserve support or is not worthy of compassion as a result of an eating disorder. Unfortunately, these negative cognitions only serve to feed unhealthy patterns of food-related behavior causing a painful cycle. Until recently, there was not one specific mode of intervention aimed at targeting the eating disordered brain’s propensity toward damaging cognitions.

Compassion Focused Therapy

Over the past two decades, researchers have spent an increasing amount of time researching a novel intervention called Compassion Focused Therapy. Compassion Focused Therapy, or CFT, aims to alleviate an individual’s suffering by encouraging self-compassion, self-love, courage, and kindness.

A study out of the University of Queensland aimed to review the available qualitative research on CFT to evaluate its efficacy and success. UQ researcher, Dr. Stan Steindl, said the review into CFT for eating disorders (CFT-E) found promising results for adults with eating disorders, especially bulimia nervosa and obesity.

Dr. Steindl went on to state, “It helps people to let go of the negative behaviors they use to control their food intake and their weight, and instead encourages them to eat regularly and adequately.” The second benefit of CFT is its potential to motivate individuals to seek out comprehensive treatment and stick with it. A major barrier to treatment follow-through comes from an individual’s experience of stigmatization from self and others. When coupled with their own negative cognitions and self-defeating thoughts, an individual is much less likely to seek and sustain support.

How CFT Works with Other Eating Disorder Treatment Programs

CFT is not intended to be implemented on its own. CFT is meant to incorporate the development and practice of compassion for self, and others into standard and pre-existing eating disorder treatment programs. This presents an exciting and wonderful new opportunity for clinicians in the field to further their skill sets and add this component of compassion and self-compassion into their current programming.