What are Connection Focused Therapy (CFT) & Polyvagal Informed Trainings?

Welcome to the CFT community! Training as a CFT therapist or helping professional is training to save and change lives. Connection Focused Therapy® is a multidisciplinary modality designed to help people become empowered as individuals while learning to support, collaborate with, and draw strength from loved ones, peers, and communities.

This process not only helps individuals recover from trauma and re-group after disruptive or traumatic experiences, but it also gives families, couples, individuals and groups the skills they need to handle crisis, uplift each other, and thrive long term.

For those searching for therapy or support, please know that this page is geared towards therapists and other helping professionals, but it will be informative for you, too.

Stages of Care Treatment Delivery

Connection Focused Therapy (CFT) is a research informed program with protocols for clients, and tools for training mental health and medical professionals, educators, and equine-facilitated learning practitioners on how to better support people who are facing significant challenges in life. Challenges include physiological, psychological, behavioral, family, addiction, and trauma-related issues. The program features specifically designed equine-facilitated activities that build on each other progressively, as well as a variety of tools that can be used in an office setting.

Populations Served

Connection Focused Therapy® can also be used to prevent trauma and violence. In this context, families, educators, first responders, law enforcement personnel, health care workers and social service providers learn the innovative, emotionally, and socially intelligent skills needed to calm, focus, and gain the cooperation of frightened or aggressive people. This form of training is particularly beneficial for the parents, spouses, and teachers of highly sensitive, naturally dominant, and/or potentially explosive children and adults. Families faced with the challenge of supporting a member who has difficulty managing their emotions and/or controlling their behavior, learn the non-predatory power, leadership, verbal and nonverbal communication skills needed to help individuals develop greater self-awareness, self-esteem, self-mastery, empathy, and cooperation.

Core Principles of CFT & Trainings

The three Core Principles of CFT:

  1. Safety

    The therapeutic staff and training teams understands and employs polyvagal informed practices sensitive to the “neuroception” of safety or danger (Stephen Porges), and the creation of a supportive environment capable of activating the ventral vagal response. Over time, the client/student learns how recognize the “ladder”™ of responses (Deb Dana), and how to move toward the ventral vagal response through a variety of experiences and tools that gently build on each other. Social connection is only possible if the people and horses involved feel a basic level of safety.

  2. Connection

    The backdrop of everything in Connection Focused Principles is the importance of a “mindful, authentic, purposeful connection” ™ (Bailey). This starts from the first point of contact. The following “four C’s” are modeled and embodied throughout every interaction the therapist or staff makes with the client, group, or each other: “Curiosity + Compassion + Communication = Connection”™ (Bailey).

  3. Acceptance

    “Ride the horse you’re with!” (Margie McDonald) At first, this describes the therapist’s and team’s ability to stay present and see clients/students for who they truly are, not as complex diagnoses, behavior problems, or labels. We encourage individuals, families and groups to accept who they are now, and incorporate the past in a healthy forward-focused manner.

Skills Training

Problematic behaviors evolve as a way to cope with a situation or attempt to solve a problem. While these behaviors might provide temporary relief, they often are not effective in the long-term. CFT principles assumes that clients and students are doing the best they can, AND they need to learn to interpret their behaviors in a new, more relevant context.

The function of CFT Skills is to help enhance a client’s capabilities.
There are four skills taught in CFT:
Mindfulness: the practice of being present fully aware, regulated, and able to co-regulate others.
Distress Tolerance: how to interpret dysregulation in difficult situations, and not rush to change it.
Interpersonal Effectiveness: how to be clear on personal boundaries and needs, while maintaining self-respect and relationships with others.
Emotion Regulation: how to identify autonomic nervous system responses and support the internalization of safety.

CFT Skills training is frequently taught in a variety of progressive workshops, with follow up sessions.

Consultation Zoom for Therapists and Other Helping Professionals

Continue practicing and experiencing polyvagal principles as they relate to work conducted by therapists, coaches, and other helping professionals.

What is the “C” in CFT?

At the core of our work is connections. We have found that experiential activities such as hiking, cooking together, playing games allows for powerful important connections. Animals, especially horses, are incorporated into the treatment and trainings to help underscore the importance of curiosity, compassion, and communication. In Polyvagal terms, co-regulation is an important goal. Co-regulation is, in its simplest terms, the impact our nervous systems have on us, on each other, and the importance of mutual regulation.

In CFT, acceptance strategies are added to the behavioral change strategies through validation and through accepting the client just as they are. We can observe that too much focus on change results in clients feeling misunderstood and that their suffering is invalid. Working with people with extreme emotional sensitivity requires careful attention to the balance between acceptance and change.

What is the “F” in CFT?

The “F” stands for “focused”. This is a highly client focused centered approach. Thirty years of experience, listening to individuals and families describe their desire to “feel safe”, “at peace”, and ‘’connected” has led us to believe that you can move forward. Complex cases of abduction survivors and other victims of crimes and/or trauma often share the same language of feeling “stuck”, “isolated”, and unable to “problem solve”. Each story included a description of an internal state as well as an external reason. However, some of these same themes came through loud and clear with other less complex cases. We would hear over and over an expression of a perceived lack of feeling safe and comfortable in the world. This therapeutic approach is not for everyone. It is interactive and collaborative with the client.

What is the Science behind CFT?

CFT principles are founded on evidence-based criteria, in particular Polyvagal Theory, Experiential Therapy, Attachment Theory, Family Systems Theory, Psychodynamic Concepts, Animal Assisted Therapies, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Somatic Skills Training. We are currently supporting and encouraging evidence-based research to be undertaken nationally and internationally.

Becoming a CFT Educator and/or Therapist

The CFT model was originally developed by Linda Kohanov and Dr. Rebecca Bailey as a therapeutic approach to deep and complex trauma. A licensed therapist and a horse professional are always encouraged to work together in this rewarding and challenging context.

As time has passed, we have seen the model developing as a modality useful for a variety of populations and backgrounds. The major premises of the CFT model have been found to have wide applicability to educating and promoting personal and professional growth, even without the presence of extreme trauma.

CFT is Transformational

Whether you’re a therapist, coach, or any kind of helping professional, it’s time to incorporate this transformational model into your practice.