An exploration of staff and student perspectives on the use of Compassion Focused Therapy within an Alternative Education Provision in Northern Ireland

  • Aine Sutton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctorate in Educational, Child and Adolescent Psychology


Students in Alternative Educational Provision (AEP) evidence elevated rates of mental health difficulties relative to their peers in mainstream schools and have insufficient access to mental health supports. Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) seeks to foster self-compassion in individuals who experience significant shame. Little research has examined the applications of CFT with children and adolescents. This study comprised two components, which respectively sought to: 1. Examine how adolescents in an AEP experience group-based CFT; 2. Examine staff views on the acceptability of Compassionate Mind Training (CMT) techniques (which derive from CFT) for use by educational staff with adolescent students in an AEP. During Component One, semi-structured interviews were conducted with three AEP students (two males and one female, mean age=14.6, SD=0.6) who attended six to eight weeks of group-based CFT within an AEP. The data was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. The findings demonstrate the non-linear process of learning to trust within therapy. Most participants developed an increased capacity to relate compassionately to themselves and to others over the course of attending CFT. The second component of this research featured a focus group, which was attended by five female AEP teaching staff (mean age=40.8, SD=6.7) who apply CMT techniques in their work with students. The Theoretical Framework of Acceptability informed both the focus group schedule and the Framework Analysis of the resulting data. AEP staff deemed CMT techniques acceptable for use by staff with AEP students. Implications for professional practice and future research are discussed.

Thesis is embargoed until 31 December 2024.
Date of AwardDec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsEducation Authority
SupervisorPatricia Davison (Supervisor) & Lisa Graham-Wisener (Supervisor)


  • Compassion
  • compassion focused therapy
  • child
  • adolescence
  • alternative education provision
  • compassion based intervention

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