Introducing Sarah and Emotion Focussed Therapy
Over the next year I will be writing a blog series about the different therapeutic approaches counselling uses. Some people are unsure what counselling is and curious to know what they can expect as a client. So, each month I will be choosing a different therapeutic approach to write about. I will explain a little bit about the theory behind it, the techniques used and how and when they would be applied.
Counsellors draw on each of the therapies at different times to deliver therapeutic interventions best suited to the client and the client's needs. The first approach I have chosen is Emotion Focussed Therapy.
Emotion focussed therapy is based around the premise that our being in the world is ruled by our emotion. That our actions are determined by our thoughts and our thoughts are determined by our emotion. Logic cannot be used to achieve a long-lasting change in emotion. Trying to detach from our emotions or observe them may be helpful in the short term, such as mindfulness, however, to really heal emotions we need to change them with another emotion. To explain further: emotions have action tendencies e.g. in anger we may puff up or move forward, fear we may withdraw or move away, shame we may sink. If you replace fear with anger you cannot be both moving forward and away at the same time. To change an emotion, you need a corrective emotional experience by either an interaction with another or integrating a new experience to an old memory.
The process for a corrective emotional experience:
· Feel the emotion
· Understand the emotion
· Transform the emotion
Counsellors can apply several therapeutic techniques to achieve these three steps.
· Clients may be asked to scan their body and detect where they are feeling their emotion then asked to describe it in terms of shape or colour or size.
· Clients are invited to explore what memories, people, incidents, smells are associated with that emotion.
· Clients are invited to explore what triggers the emotion...what happens just before they feel that emotion.
· Techniques can include using an empty chair. This requires some imagination and creativity. Depending on your issue you talk to an imaginary self or other. For example, if a client is having conflict with their mother, the therapist would invite the mother to sit in the empty chair. The therapist then directs client to address their mother, then reflect what the mother may say back, respond to this and so on. At the end the therapist would check in with the client and ask what emotion they were feeling as they addressed their mother and what emotions they were feeling now. This changed emotional response is called a corrective emotional experience. The confidence and power that was experienced in the exchange replaces the shame or fear that was there.
· Visualisations or reliving a memory is used to apply a new experience to an old memory. The therapist invites the client to imagine a scene from the past where they wish something had happened differently or they wished someone who caused them emotional pain had reacted differently. The client may call on the therapist or their adult self to appear in the scenario and help them to say something or to confront the person for them.
Sarah Dwyer, PDC Counsellor