Emotions in Therapy

Posted on December 12th, 2012

Emotions are what bring people to therapy, emotions and situations which seem unworkable because of the emotions associated with them. In addition to sorting through the tangles of these situations, many clients begin therapy needing to learn more about their emotions and how to deal with them.

There are four typical difficulties about emotions which I work with in therapy:

1) Many people begin with a limited awareness of their emotions. Increasing awareness of emotions has two parts. First, since emotions happen in the body, it is very helpful to learn how to know what one is feeling from becoming more aware of changes in the body, including awareness of posture, breathing, muscle tension, and heart rate. Second, it is important to develop a vocabulary of emotions adequate to describe what one is actually feeling.

2) Some people are apparently more articulate about emotions, but they are thinking about emotions rather than experiencing the emotions themselves. A typical statement by these clients will begin, “I think I feel . . ..” The work here involves clients learning to pay attention to what they are actually feeling and catching themselves when they instead go up into thoughts about emotions.

3) Some people know what they are feeling, but they have restricted themselves to one or two acceptable emotions, usually anger or sadness, which they use to cover a range of responses to situations. In this way, a happy event can result in sadness, as in “I didn’t used to have this happiness, and that’s making me sad.” What helps in this kind of situation is for the client learn how this sequence works and how to step out of it as it begins.

4) Some people over-emote, meaning they experience so much emotion that they are not able to focus on other aspects of their experience. This happens for many clients at the beginning of therapy, as they allow themselves to become more aware of how much they are affected by situations in their lives. But some clients continue to get tripped up by emotional storms long after this initial phase of therapy. This over-emoting can distract from gaining a clearer view of what is going on in their lives, until this gets re-focused in therapy.

Clients need courage to move forward from each of these self-protective patterns. The skills are not that difficult to learn, but absorbing the new information clients learn about themselves and their relationships can be challenging. I help by creating strong supporting partnerships, including assisting clients in not getting overwhelmed as new information arises.

The goal of this emotional work is for clients to become secure and resilient in feeling, accepting, and moving through whatever emotions show up as they live their lives, lives which can be freer and richer because of this.

Posted in Individual Counseling

Please remember, this is a blog. It is not psychotherapy or treatment of any kind and is not a substitute for the individual treatment you can get from going to see a good therapist.