The Three Systems
The Three Systems is a track taken from the Psychology Tools For Developing Self-Compassion audio collection. The three systems conceptualization is a foundational component of compassion focused therapy (CFT), used for helping clients and therapists to make sense of difficulties. This track introduces the three systems model, explores the purpose and function of each system, and uses it to help the listener to understand the kinds of difficulties that can results from an imbalance of these systems.
Within compassion focused therapy (CFT) one commonly used method for understanding client difficulties is the ‘three systems’ conceptualization (Dale-Hewitt & Irons, 2015). This model proposes ‘threat’, ‘drive’ and ‘soothing-affiliative’ motivational systems and describes difficulties in terms of the function and relative balance of these three systems.
The threat system evolved to make organisms pay attention to sources of potential danger, and to take steps to neutralize or avoid the threat.
The drive system evolved to activate animals, energizing them to move towards things that might be useful for their survival. This might include resources such as food, territory, or mates.
The soothing system evolved to help animals to slow down, to rest and recuperate. Linked to a branch of your parasympathetic nervous system, it naturally helps to bring balance to the more energized aspects of your threat and drive systems.
The Three Systems is a track taken from the Psychology Tools For Developing Self-Compassion audio collection. In this introductory track, Dr Chris Irons introduces the CFT three systems model, explores the purpose and function of each system, and uses it to help the listener to understand the kinds of difficulties that can result from an imbalance of these systems.
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 and use them 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, 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.
- Gilbert, P. (2014). The origins and nature of compassion focused therapy. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53(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 practice, 94(3), 443-463.
- Leboeuf, I., Andreotti, E., Irons, C., Beaumont, E., & Antoine, P. (2022). A randomized controlled study of a French compassionate mind training. Mindfulness, 13(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. Mindfulness, 12(5), 1159-1172.