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Pluralistic Tasks for Befriending your Tough Inner Critic: Some Examples

Compassion Focused Therapy / Individual Emotion-Focussed Therapy

Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) is a relatively new psychotherapy approach which was originally developed to work with shame and self-loathing (self-criticism). CFT is embedded within contemporary neurobiological understandings of the human mind.  The research indicates there can be limitations with the CBT model for some clients with a tough Inner Critic or toxic shame.  They perhaps have not experienced much in the way of soothing or compassion from others and so are unable to regulate their emotions and may struggle to befriend their inner critic.  Gilbert (2010) notes “these are the individuals who are likely to say ‘I understand the logic of [say] CBT but I cannot feel any different’.  Gilbert (2009) theorises that, to feel different requires the ability to access affect systems (a specific neurophysiology) that give rise to our feelings of reassurance and safeness.  This is a well-known issue in CBT (Leahy, 2001; Stott 2007; Wills 2009. P. 57)” (p.6).  So, for some clients,  Compassion-Focussed Therapy and Emotion-Focussed Therapy can be a way of working to identify feelings of compassion and the safety to express toxic shame without fear of negative judgement from the counsellor, thus combatting the Inner Critic.  Gilbert (2010) notes “In individual therapy, if we’re doing individual EFT, the very best antidote to an active self-critic is the acceptance of the therapist. The therapist outlines this process of self-criticism, so the person starts to be able to stand back and look at it. The person focuses on the process, of how this person listens to these messages about themselves, how they react to these messages, how those messages then impact the way they are in the world: they hide from other people. Avoidance is the kryptonite of mental health; if you’re always avoiding, you never get any supportive messages that disconfirm your worst fears” (p.9).  As a Pluralistic Counsellor, the basic underpinnings of pluralism appear to compliment Gilbert’s (2010) requirements for CFT and EFT: empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence.  We are soothing our clients through genuine warmth and caring. What Neff (2003a) refers to as “common humanity” where clients feel held and understood (Gilbert; 2010; p.118) and the Pluralistic Counsellor may achieve this through displaying empathy and unconditional positive regard,  gently slowing the client down and focussing on their emotional responses.  There are a number of ways to befriend the Inner Critic this way. For example, the client might consider their embodied response to the Inner Critic, what do they feel like when you hear this voice? Is it a shame feeling? Does it render them immobile? Has it impeded their sense of self? Is it a perfectionist? Does it rob clients of the psychological reflexivity to forgive themselves for mistakes and move on? This approach allows a Pluralistic Counsellor scope to work alongside their individual client.  Perhaps identifying co-existing defense mechanisms.  Very gently drawing the client's awareness to their thoughts, feelings and behaviour within a compassionate safe space.  Gilbert (2010) notes: “Our abilities to feel safe in the social world often come from how we feel or think others feel and think about us (see Gilbert, 1992, Chapter 7; 2007a Chapter 5).  when we interact with others, so that they show pleasure in our presentations and liking, then we can feel safe... many of our goals are orientated to try to earn other people's approval and respect, and be accepted in groups" (p.118). Pluralistic Counsellors are also aware of the importance of the therapeutic relationship on therapeutic outcomes (e.g.McLeod 2019, chapter 3) and compassion and self-compassion becomes a powerful antidote to the Tough Inner Critic, as we will discuss.

"Everyone will experience pain in their lives, but suffering is a particularly human ability. Suffering is associated with the way we experience our own minds. The goal of CFT is to alleviate suffering by developing your care-giving (compassion) system – allowing you to live more comfortably in your own mind. The care-giving system has the qualities of non-judgment, strength, warmth, empathy, wisdom, kindness, and moral courage. Treatment using CFT involves: learning about human nature, learning skills to develop the care-giving system, practicing activating the care-giving system and using it in your life" (Psychology Tools, 2020).  How a Pluralistic Counsellor and their client choose to do this depends on the individuals.

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