WHAT IS EMOTIONAL PROCESSING THERAPY?
‘Most people successfully process the overwhelming majority of disturbing events that occur in this life’ Jack Rachman
Jack Rachman, who first defined emotional processing in 1980, regarded ‘successful processing’ of distressing events as the norm for most people. But what if the ‘disturbing event’ is so overwhelming, so traumatic, or if someone is just unable to process it? What happens then?
The event may be a recent one, such as a car crash, a divorce, or a death in the family that the person is struggling to accommodate, or it could be something which happened in the distant past. This event from the past may never have been properly dealt with at the time, put into cold storage, hoping it would disappear for ever, but the repercussions rumble on. It might have been bullying at school, sexual abuse, separation of parents or other disturbing events.
This is where Emotional Processing Therapy comes in. The purpose of Emotional Processing Therapy is to help people fully process those recent or past disturbing events in order to reach a level of calm where they no longer feel emotionally troubled.
Emotional Processing Therapy is a therapy that regards the person’s emotional life as the central point of treatment. It is all about emotions, how to deal with them and the best way to resolve emotional pain. Emotional Processing Therapy could be the main approach or an adjunct to other therapies. It is not the same as Cognitive Therapy, where thinking and cognitions are the primary focus, but it does share much with Person Centred Counselling and Trauma Focussed Therapy, but with much more explicit discussion of emotion. The Emotional Processing Scale is a central assessment tool to help therapists formulate the course of therapy.
The main elements of the therapy are described in:
This website describes the application of EPT to Psychogenic conditions, Multiple Sclerosis, Cancer, PTSD and in Group Therapy.
The emotional processing approach has been developed in three paperbacks on panic, post traumatic stress and what it means to have a healthy emotional life.
UNDERSTANDING TRAUMA; HOW TO OVERCOME POST TRAUMATIC STRESS
What does it feel like?
How can it be overcome?
Trauma is a term that many find alienating and clinical – it only seems relevant to those who have been through wars or lived through disasters. But in fact trauma is something most people encounter at some point in life, and Post Traumatic Stress – far from being a mental disorder – is a normal reaction to abnormal events: even breaking a bone or seeing a car crash.
In this book Dr Roger Baker explains the many symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. Based on twenty years of research and clinical practice, he lays out a self-help programme – Emotional Processing Therapy – which can defuse the distressing memories of trauma and reduce the occurrence of flashbacks, nightmares, and tension. But it is not just a treatment program: for the first time Dr Baker shows what can be done to prevent Post Traumatic Stress. “Knowing how to face trauma”, Dr Baker proposes “and minimize its worst ravages is a skill that we can all benefit from”.
Full of first-hand experiences and stories of patients’ progress in therapy, this is essential reading for trauma sufferers, their family and friends, and specialists alike.
Dr Roger Baker is Consultant Clinical Psychologist with the Dorset Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, and Professor of Clinical Psychology at Bournemouth University. He is author of the highly acclaimed Understanding Panic Attacks and Overcoming Fear and Emotional Processing: Healing Through Feeling.
UNDERSTANDING PANIC ATTACKS AND OVERCOMING FEAR
UPDATED AND REVISED 3RD EDITION
What is a panic attack? What does it feel like?
What causes attacks? Can they be cured?
This authoritative yet practical book helps the reader toward an in-depth understanding of panic. It is essential reading for sufferers, their friends and family, and clinicians. In clear and concise language, it describes a psychological self-help programme for panic sufferers that has been tried and tested over many years.
Now in its third edition, this book has been updated throughout to reflect recent research, including the latest developments in cognitive behavioural therapy and new techniques for managing anxiety.
“A full recovery is possible,” Dr Baker explains. “It certainly is not easy, nor quick, but it definitely is possible”.
Professor Roger Baker is Professor of Clinical Psychology at Bournemouth University. He has worked in a dual role as researcher and clinical psychologist at Leeds, Aberdeen, and Bournemouth Universities and in NHS Trusts specialising in Mental Health. He has used Understanding Panic Attacks in his therapeutic work for several years.
“It’s as if the body has a second immune system, an emotional system, devoted not to physical protection, but to protection from emotional hurt and trauma” Dr Roger Baker
Is there a way of harnessing our emotions, of living in harmony with them and finding meaning and fulfilment through them?
In Emotional Processing, Dr Roger Baker offers a new psychological approach. Basing his writing on twenty years of experience in therapy and the ground breaking research he has undertaken with his research team, he explains how emotional processing works.
He begins by examining the meaning and purpose of emotions, affirming the crucially important role they play in a full and healthy life. They are, he says, an advanced information system, not an opponent of rational thought. He then goes on to show how we have a sort of second immune system, able to absorb and break down emotional hurts and stress just as our first immune system deals with viruses and bacteria. When we move with this system of emotional processing instead of blocking or hindering it, life’s troubles and traumas can be so much easily absorbed.
Illustrated throughout with example from patients in psychological therapy and from everyday life, Emotional Processing offers all of us new and important insights into the path to emotional well-being.
DR ROGER BAKER is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Dorset Health Care NHS Foundation Trust, Co-ordinator of a Research Unit at Poole Hospital specialising in mind-body research, and visiting Professor at Bournemouth University. He is author of the highly acclaimed Understanding Panic Attacks and Overcoming Fear (Lion).
§ A new way of handling emotional pain and hurts
§ Based on ground-breaking psychological research
Emotional Processing Part 1 (March 2019)
Time heals – or does it? The nature of emotional processing
By Roger Baker, Professor of Clinical Psychology, Bournemouth University
“I’ve made the breakfast, cleared the house, just done all the shopping and come home and you are still in your pyjamas watching football. You’re the most selfish person in the world. I’ve had enough. I’m never coming back.” With that Siobhan turned on her heels toward the front door and Ben heard her drive off at breakneck speed. He swore to himself, gave a V-sign in the air and shouted out “She’s totally impossible.” Later, cuddling together on the sofa watching ‘Die Hard’ yet again, both have clean forgotten their argument.
Amanda’s grandfather had been more like a father to her. She remembered how warm and loving he was to her when things were bleak at home and often told her how special she was. She somehow imagined he would be around forever. But his sudden heart attack had left her at first numb, but now 3 days after his death memories of their time together came tumbling into her mind and she couldn’t stop bursting into tears. She could not concentrate for long, and called off going to work. She was surprised how hard it had hit her, and wondered if she would ever get back to normal again.
When Jim heard the diagnosis he was filled with dread and fear. Usually quite an easy-going person, he was anxiously ruminating whether he could continue working, would he be able to support his family, would he die soon and a hundred other questions. It was when he heard he would have to give himself two injections of insulin every day that a wave of fear rolled over him and he started to sweat. He had always hated injections. That was 4 years ago. Jim has kept his job, supported his family, and feels more active than before. Although he doesn’t like the injections, it has now become part of the routine way of life.
Here are three short vignettes involving different types of stressful events and different types of emotional reactions. Siobhan and Ben’s domestic hassle was characterised by short-lasting anger; the more personally traumatic effect of Amanda’s grandfather’s death engendered an intense grief; and Jim’s reaction to a life with diabetes involved a more continuing pattern of stress. What started with emotional turmoil for all three has ended with a calmer resolution. The popular adage ‘Time Heals’, however, is unsatisfactory in psychological terms. Yes, over the passage of time all have healed, but how many psychological processes were at work, both consciously and unconsciously, to bring about a resolution? Things might not have healed. Siobhan and Ben might have split up with bitter wrangling. Amanda might still be struggling with unresolved issues around the death of her grandfather, and Jim might have developed needle phobia. What happens in psychological terms to foster resolution of emotional events, and what happens to hinder resolution?
Early theories of emotional processing
Stanley Rachman was the first to propose a psychological theory of how emotionally distressing events are absorbed and resolved, which he termed emotional processing (Rachman 1980). Rachman defined emotional processing as ‘a process whereby emotional disturbances are absorbed and decline to the extent that other experiences and behaviour can proceed without disruption’. One could assess whether emotional experiences had been incompletely absorbed or not processed by intrusive signs of emotional activity, such as crying, nightmares, restlessness, pre-occupation, intrusive thoughts and the return of fears and obsessions. This was proposed towards the end of the Behaviour Therapy era, in 1980. It described the behavioural signs of successful and unsuccessful emotional processing, but did not specify what emotional or cognitive processes might underpin emotional processing. The first step toward specifying a mechanism by which emotional processing might operate was Foa and Kozak (Foa & Kozak 1986) about the emotional processing of fear reactions. They proposed that exposure was successful because it introduced “safer” information into the person’s emotional fear network. For instance exposure to a phobic object may help the person discover at an emotional level that the phobic object is safer than they thought and that their fear reaction does not last forever.
Behavioural exposure has proved to be an incredibly successful approach with all phobias, post traumatic stress and obsessions. It is still used today, packaged under the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy brand. Foa stressed the importance of exposing individuals to the trigger stimulus (phobic object, memory of the trauma, ‘contaminated’ object) so that there was sufficient emotional arousal to allow processing to take place.
Emotional Processing as a type of healing
The importance of Rachman’s and Foa’s theories was that they linked psychopathology with incomplete emotional processing, recognised its centrality in psychotherapy and, in Rachman’s case, that emotional processing was an important part of healthy living. He suggested that “most people successfully process the overwhelming majority of distressing events that occur in their life”, but that blockages and failure in processing could lead to psychological symptoms. However, he did not specify what these blockages and failures might be.
In effect, by suggesting that successful processing of distressing emotional events was the norm, Rachman was proposing a sort of natural healing process; a sort of inbuilt method of absorbing distress so that serious psychological disturbance could not develop. Baker (2007) has referred to this as “ a second immune system”, not designed to protect us for biological damage but rather protecting us from emotional damage.
Baker, R. (2007). Emotional processing: Healing through feeling. Oxford: Lion-Hudson.
Foa, E. B., & Kozak, M. J. (1986). Emotional processing of fear: Exposure to corrective information. Psychological Bulletin, 99, 20–35.
Rachman, S. (1980). Emotional processing. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 18, 51– 60