Yasmina currently works as a researcher in statistics. Recently completed MA in Journalism. Her background is psychology and significant experience of working in mental health made her passionate to write about it. She finds mental health matters fascinating and hopes to continue writing about it.

Target publication: Psychology Today 

Compassionate version of us 

Stand first

Maggie Murray learnt how to be compassionate towards herself to be able to help others. She talks to Yasmina Abou-Hilal about what compassion focused based therapy is, why she chose it and how it helps people. 

Maggie Murray trained in integrative counselling which gave her opportunity to choose her specialist training. She didn’t know which direction to choose, person centred approach and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) were some of the options: “I didn’t feel like they offer enough for me, to be confident to offer therapy to others.”

She felt overwhelmed with the wealth of information surrounding different approaches and trainings: “Professionally, everyone was telling me different things.”

It wasn’t good for her confidence and self-esteem: “The ashamed version of me appeared, for not knowing enough.”

Until she came across compassion focused based therapy: “It just clicked in my mind, I knew this will work for me.”

Paul Gilbert is the founder of compassion focused based therapy. After years of working in mental health, he observed patients were unable to make significant changes through CBT and other medical models. 

Through listening to the patients, he recognised that most of the discourse is shame based. He did research into neuroscience and understood our brains are hard-wired and humans constantly look out for dangers. He came up with a 3-circle model, which consists of threat, drive and sooth as emotional regulatory systems. 

Through the lens of this system, he noticed people are out of balance. Maggie explains: “We need to know what threats are out there, but we shouldn’t get caught up in them.”

There are patterns of behaviours in families, we observe, watch, and mimic our parents, grandparents, teachers and significant people in our life. 

He noticed a change when patients were told that it is not their fault. Maggie says: “Telling people they didn’t choose to arrive in this world, with the history of their families allows people to work through the shame they are holding.”

Maggie talks with a soft voice: “The compassion focused therapy is all about developing a compassion of mind training. It is looking at how people think, how they recognise who they are and what do they see as their self-critic.”

Self-critic plays an important role in the compassion focused based therapy. It is about understanding that we have different versions of ourselves. We start looking at all these versions of individual person: “We have the anxious self and angry self. 

“We have the compassionate self, which we look at growing and developing.”

Ultimately compassion focused based therapy is promoting well-being through scientific understanding and application of compassion: “I embodied the compassion way of being and decided to train as compassion focused based therapist.”

The 3 circles representing emotional regulatory systems are colour coded. Red for threat, blue for drive and green for sooth: “I was able to connect to them on a personal level.”

Training to become a compassion focused based therapist was a personal journey: “I was in red circle a lot of the time, I felt anxiety, I had feelings of shame that I am not good enough.”

Maggie learnt how to sooth her system internally, not with external stuff like she used to do: “I felt real acceptance from allowing to talk kindly to myself. I understand there are two other emotional systems I can tap into and be resourceful from to put me back into balance.”

She is passionate about teaching people what she learnt herself: “I help people to slow down their minds, bodies and breath.

“A lot of the time people are caught up in threat and find it difficult to slow down in their busy lives.

“When they slow down, they feel like they will fall apart.”

Maggie loves nature and learns from it: “Nature has enabled me to slow down my breath and pace. 

“Mindfulness practice taught me how to stop, observe and be accepting.”

Maggie is dedicated to share as much as she can to make lives of others more fulfilling. Before lockdown she wanted to offer compassion focused based therapy in nature to others: “Until I felt confident in embodying this approach myself, I didn’t feel ready to extend into wider environment.”

She continued with her personal and professional development. When lockdown arrived, she knew the only time is now to offer therapeutic space in nature to others: “Therapists were saying we can’t meet inside, but we can meet outside with one person.” 

We all crave sensory experiences, consciously and unconsciously. She smiles: “To be able to touch, smell and hold things.”

Nature gives us another element, to learn, and to look for metaphors: “Sometimes we don’t even know we are learning.”

Slowing down people’s minds and breaths is big part of her job. Maggie explains how nature allows to do so, she starts to talk slower and uses gestures: “You can watch the clouds go by and slowly use the breath to the movement of the clouds. 

“You can breathe to the trees swaying.”  

Lockdown was an awful experience for all, on many levels: “For those who already struggled with their mental health, the impact was enormous.”

The anxiety that lockdown brought was challenging. People were scared to go out for many reasons. They didn’t feel safe outside: “Compassion focused therapy in nature allowed people to feel safe outdoors. 

“To see life from different perspective, like a fresh pair of lenses.”

Maggie happily adds: “It was an opportunity for people to release stressful thoughts of lockdown.”

Mother Nature is the biggest healer. Maggie explains how nature helps people develop compassion, her voice is serious and calm: “When people hear themselves in nature, because it is calm and still, they start to take care of themselves in healthier ways.”

Compassion is not as straight forward word, and it can mean different things to different people. Maggie opens up on what it means to her: “It is about enabling myself to care for me and others.”

In compassion focused based therapy there are three flows: compassion we can give to others, compassion that other can give us, and the compassion we can give to ourselves. 

Maggie loves people so much that she wanted to offer people something different to therapy. More about people coming together. After lockdown, she started Our Green Soothing Circle gatherings. This was an opportunity for people to meet in a group outdoors. Maggie facilitated the meetings using her compassion focused therapy-based training and knowledge. 

Maggie understands people and goes an extra mile to make positive changes in people’s life: “Some people are resistant to therapy and wouldn’t come if they knew it was a therapeutic thing, because it would scare them.”

Many people are not ready to discuss their deeply hidden experiences: “They might be willing to come to something that offers something different, walk in nature, a cup of tea.”

Maggie shows people in different ways how they can be more compassionate towards themselves: “Our Green Soothing Circle gatherings are another way for people to show up for themselves.

“It is offering a collective way to enjoy a space together. We all needed it after lockdown. “

People benefited from being in a group and sharing experiences: “So many people got so much from it, without it being too intrusive.”

Maggie is driven to offer more opportunities for people to develop their compassionate beings because she sees how it changed her life and lives of many others. 

Thank you Yasmina for sharing your reflections of my way of working 

Maggie Murray

Maggie Murray

I’m a registered member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Reg MBACP (Accred). I work from a pluralistic perspective rather than humanistic perspective as I am identifying with that terminology after further training.