Overview Current views of Emotion Emotion -focused Therapy (EFT) Research on EFT Future of...
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Emotion Then and Now: Emotion-focused Therapy and the Transforming Power of Affect
Leslie S Greenberg
Current views of Emotion
Emotion -focused Therapy (EFT)
Research on EFT
Future of Psychotherapy
Shift in View of Emotion Views of emotion have varied greatly over the history of emotion in psychology & particularly in psychotherapy theory.
Emotions initially were seen as discharge products of drives (Freud), as epiphenomena (Skinner), and then during the recent cognitive revolution as post-cognitive phenomena (Beck)
There however has been a marked shift in the last decades from a cognitive to an adaptive view of emotional functioning. Due in large part to compelling findings in the affective and cognitive neurosciences in the past two decades (Damasio, 1994, 2003; LeDoux, 1996, 2002) emotions have clearly been shown to be an independent and an adaptive component of human functioning and not simply secondary to cognition.
As many emotion researchers have pointed out primary emotional responses have been evolutionarily preserved because they serve an adaptive function (Lane 2008, Panksepp 2008 , Frijda 1988).
Emotions provide an assessment of the degree to which goals or needs have been met in interaction with the environment. They also reset the organism physiologically, behaviourally and cognitively to adjust to changing circumstances.
From birth on, emotion also is a primary signalling system that communicates intentions and regulates interaction
Rapid and Automatic ResponseEmotional processing of simple sensory features occurs extremely early in the processing sequence (Whalen et al 2001) This initial "pre-cognitive", perceptual, emotional processing of the low road, fundamentally, is highly adaptive because it allows people to respond quickly to important events before complex and time-consuming processing has taken place by the prefrontal cortex high road to emotion (LeDoux 1996)
Because the shorter amygdala pathway transmits signals more than twice as fast as the neocortex route, the thinking brain often cant intervene in time to stop emotional responses.
Automatic emotional responses occur, before one can stop them, be it jumping back from a snake, snapping at a spouse, crying at a sad ending or feeling joy at a babys smile.
Emotion Cognition InteractionNeuro and psychological research on emotion thus shows that emotion is pre-cognitive but it also shows that emotion interacts with cognition to form complex affective cognitive structures termed emotion schemes (Oatley 1992,Greenberg 2002)
These are a primary meaning system in that they automatically evaluate what is significant for our well being and are carriers of personal meanings for the self.
Emotions also include automatic attentional and evaluative processes, and are themselves cognitive in the broad sense of cognition but are more than computational or propositional forms of knowledge.
Emotion and conscious thought interact in language to create meaning
This new look in emotion research has begun to set a new agenda for psychological research to determine under what conditions emotions play a determining role in human experience and how this occurs.
The question does emotion precede cognition or vice versa has been superseded by one asking under which conditions do emotions influence thought or vice versa?.
The questions especially relevant to psychotherapy are how can we best facilitate a) emotion awareness b) overcoming the avoidance of emotion to promote access to its adaptive benefits. c) emotion transformation.
Four Key Research Findings
Awareness and symbolization of bodily felt emotional experience down regulates emotional (Lieberman, Eisenberger, Crockett, et al 2004, Pennebaker,1995)
Emotion influences memory, thought, decisions and narrative construction (Bower,1981, Damasio 1999, Forgas, (2000)
Emotion changes emotion (Davidson 2000, Fredrickson, Mancuso, Branigan, & Tugade, 2000)
Emotion changes memory during its reconsolidation period. (Nadel, & Moscovitch, 1997, Nader, Schafe& Le Doux, J. E. 2000;Schiller D Monfils, Raio, Johnson, LeDoux & Phelps 2010)
Research has shown that emotions rather than sitting fully formed in the unconscious exist in an undifferentiated form consisting of sensori - motor schemes that are pre-ideational and pre-verbal (Lane 2008).
Implicit emotion, or bodily felt sensations, can be turned into conscious experiences of specific emotions by putting the felt sensations into words (Lane 2008; Barrett et al. 2007).
Through this process an individual can feel specific emotions and know what it is that they are feeling.
This suggests a dialectically constructivist view of emotion in which we construct what we feel by attending to a bodily felt sense and symbolising it in awareness.
Because much emotional processing occurs independently of and prior to conscious, deliberate cognitive operations, therapeutic work on a purely cognitive level of processing is unlikely to produce enduring emotional change in low road emotion.
Emotion needs to be activated if we want to change emotion.
Low road emotions can be changed by opposing emotions
Emotion memories need to be activated to add new experience for reconsolidation.
Bodily felt experience needs to be symbolized in awareness to create new thoughts, meanings and narratives
The Duality of Emotion An important duality however occurs in working with emotion
We need to activate it to make sense of it but we also need to protect ourselves from it and regulate it
Emotions serve a unique combination of epistemological and hedonic functions - as both carriers of knowledge and givers of pleasure-pain. Feelings provide us with immediate, intimate, personally meaningful knowledge about ourselves and others
Feelings also are carriers of suffering and pain at intensities that cannot be tolerated (or of pleasure) and can become a source of threat and a danger to psychological existence.
Working With the Duality of Emotion
Feelings thus inform us about ourselves, and our surrounding in an unmediated and personally specific manner.
These feelings need articulation and this sharpens and clarifies what is felt and promotes
But there comes a point when feelings change their function.
Given their powerful dimension as pain/pleasure feelings can loose their meaning giving function and become overwhelming or destructive.
In this instance they need regulation to preserve a sense of self-coherence
Emotional problems from the low road need to be dealt with in a different manner than high road emotions Low road processing as we have seen is rapid, automatic and wholistic and is a source of adaptive information that needs to be in awareness to orient to the environment.
When dysfunctional and under-regulated, however it is a source of distress and needs to be regulated and transformed using emotion change principles.
High road processing is cognitively derived and culturally influenced by higher level goals/plans. Reason is involved in its generation, dysfunction is based on cognitive error, and change involves cognitive change principles. The Second Duality
Overview of EFT EFT views emotions as centrally important in both adaptive and maladaptive functioning, and in therapeutic change. EFT takes emotion as the fundamental datum of human experience while recognizing the importance of meaning making, and views emotion and cognition as inextricably intertwined.
EFT offers a dialectical constructivist model of functioning in which optimal adaptation is seen as involving an integration of reason and emotion by symbolizing bodily felt experience to make sense of it.
In EFT therapists are empathically attuned to emotion and work to enhance clients emotion-focused coping by helping them arrive at their core emotional experience by approaching and becoming aware of it regulating, tolerating and accepting it and, having experienced it, help them to leave it bytransforming that which is maladaptive by generating alternate adaptive emotional responses and by constructing new narratives
Characteristics of the Therapeutic Relationship
Therapeutic Presence (Geller & Greenberg, 2011).
Being completely in the moment
Bringing ones whole self into the encounter with the client, physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually
Being grounded in ones own body
Receptively taking in the verbal and bodily expression of the clients moment by moment emotional experience
Extending to meet the other in an empathic and congruent manner
3. InstrumentalBiologically adaptiveMaladaptive
Principles of Emotional Change Based on six empirically supported principles of change that guide differential intervention;
Emotion Awareness, Expression, Regulation, Reflection Transformation Corrective Experience
A major premise guiding intervention is that one cannot leave a place until one has arrived at it.