Research Publication

Karris, M., Caldwell, B. (2015) Integrating Emotionally Focused Therapy, Self-Compassion & Compassion- Focused Therapy to Assist Shame-Prone Couples who have Experienced Trauma. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families.



Abstract Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) for couples in which one or both partners have a history of trauma and are shame prone presents unique challenges that can potentially impede the therapeutic process. Neff’s conceptualization of self-compassion and research has demonstrated the benefits of self-compassion for both oneself and interpersonally. Gilbert’s compassion-focused therapy (CFT; 2010) is an evidence-based, integrative approach that specifically works with trauma and chronic consequences of affect dysregulation and shame. This article reviews the empirical research on EFT, self-compassion, and CFT and includes a brief review of trauma and shame. This article also discusses various ways in which Neff’s conceptualization of self-compassion and Gilbert’s CFT can be integrated into EFT for the benefit of both the EFT therapist and couples taken over by trauma and shame.

Keywords emotionally focused therapy, self-compassion, trauma, shame, mindfulness, dysregulation, compassion-focused therapy


There has been a recent increase in research regarding self compassion since Kristin Neff (2003a), a researcher from the University of Texas at Austin, operationalized the concept and created a scale to measure its constructs. A growing body of research indicates that self-compassion is linked to intrapersonal (Gilbert, 2005, 2014; Neff, 2003a; Neff, Kirkpatrick, & Rude, 2007; Neff & McGehee, 2010) and interpersonal (Neff & Beretvas, 2013; Neff & Pommier, 2013; Yarnell & Neff, 2013) benefits. Another model with extensive research is Gilbert’s compassion-focused therapy (CFT). CFT is a model of psychotherapy that places self-compassion at the core of its approach and was developed for individuals with trauma backgrounds struggling with psychological problems linked to self-criticism and shame (Gilbert, 2010). This theoretical article will explore the integration of self-compassion and CFT with emotionally focused therapy (EFT; S. M. Johnson, 2002), to assist couples overcome the impact of trauma in couples’ therapy. Self-compassion practices and principles will be used for the explicit purpose of regulating negative and constrictive affect with couples to move toward the preferred strategy of coregulation of difficult emotional states (Beckes & Coan, 2011; S. M. Johnson, 2004; Sbarra & Hazan, 2008). This article will include an exploration into how self compassion– based interventions can reduce both couple and therapist shame, which is a particular affective state that can impede the trauma work essential to EFT (S. M. Johnson & Williams-Keeler, 1998; Macintosh & Johnson, 2008).

To read the rest of the article, click here: Integrating Emotionally Focused Therapy, Self-Compassion & Compassion- Focused Therapy

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