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Living With A Tricky Brain

Living With A Tricky Brain is a track taken from the Psychology Tools For Developing Self-Compassion audio collection. This introductory track explores ideas around the ‘old brain’ and ‘new brain’, and some of the consequences that spring from living with a tricky brain.

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Audio track (MP3)

A therapy audio track designed for skills development.

Audio script (PDF)

The script for a therapy audio track. Read along with an exercise, or record in your own voice.


Languages this resource is available in

  • English (GB)
  • English (US)

Techniques associated with this resource

Introduction & Theoretical Background

Compassion focused therapy (CFT) is a form of psychological therapy developed by Professor Paul Gilbert and which integrates ideas from cognitive therapy, evolutionary science, neuroscience, and Buddhist philosophy. On helpful concept within CFT is the idea of the tricky brain. 

To simplify our understanding of the human brain we can talk about ‘old brain’ abilities and ‘new brain’ abilities. The human brain contains structures that evolved long ago, and which underpin basic functions and motives such as avoiding harm, an interest in food, reproduction, and also to be caring. This ‘old brain’ is also involved in emotions that support these motives such as anxiety, anger, and sadness, and behaviors such as fight, flight, and submissiveness.

About a million years ago, our human ancestors started to develop along a line that led to what CFT calls ‘new brain abilities’, which are linked to the prefrontal cortex. The evolution of this part of our brains led to skills including the ability to imagine things, to consider and plan, to reflect on past events, and to monitor and reflect on ourselves and our own minds. These ‘new brain’ abilities have brought wondrous things into the world – art, literature, science, and cures for various illnesses. But unfortunately, they’ve also opened the door to unhelpful – and potentially distress-causing side effects.

Living With A Tricky Brain is a track taken from the Psychology Tools For Developing Self-Compassion audio collection. In this track, Dr Chris Irons continues his introduction to compassion focused therapy by exploring ideas around the old brain and new brain, and some of the consequences that spring from living with a tricky brain.

Therapist Guidance

The Psychology Tools For Developing Self-Compassion audio collection is for anyone who wants to learn more about the ideas and practices of compassion focused therapy. It has been designed to be versatile, so it is suitable to support work with therapists who have been trained in compassion focused therapy, or to be used as a stand-alone collection of exercises. To assist the integration of the exercises into their clinical work, therapists can download the scripts for each exercise for use in-session.

Individual tracks from the audio collection can be downloaded as .MP3 files which can be played in most media player apps.

 The simplest way to share an audio track with your clients is by using the Psychology Tools ‘Email a client’ function. After obtaining their consent to send them the file you can send it directly from this page by clicking ‘Send securely to my client’. Your client will receive a secure email containing a unique link, and when they click the link they will be prompted to download the .MP3 file onto their device.

References And Further Reading

  • Gilbert, P. (2014). The origins and nature of compassion focused therapy. British Journal of Clinical Psychology53(1), 6-41.
  • Gilbert, P. (2020). Compassion: From its evolution to a psychotherapy. Frontiers in Psychology, 3123.
  • Irons, C., & Beaumont, E. (2017). The compassionate mind workbook: A step-by-step guide to developing your compassionate self. Robinson.
  • Irons, C., & Heriot‐Maitland, C. (2021). Compassionate Mind Training: An 8‐week group for the general public. Psychology and psychotherapy: Theory, research and practice94(3), 443-463.
  • Leboeuf, I., Andreotti, E., Irons, C., Beaumont, E., & Antoine, P. (2022). A randomized controlled study of a French compassionate mind training. Mindfulness13(11), 2891-2903.
  • Savari, Y., Mohagheghi, H., & Petrocchi, N. (2021). A preliminary investigation on the effectiveness of compassionate mind training for students with major depressive disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Mindfulness12(5), 1159-1172.