Relevance of emotional processing to psychological therapy

Click below to link to:half eye

  Reprint of article ‘Emotional processing model for counselling and psychotherapy: a way forward’ from Counselling in Primary Care
  Catharsis, venting and the talking cure
  Is it possible to bottle up emotions?
  Core components for an emotion therapy
  Is behaviour therapy really emotion therapy in disguise?
  Back to main page

If we could understand emotional processing, the way noxious events are absorbed or lose their impact on us, we might get closer to understanding the change process in psychological therapy.  Each type of psychotherapy has its own infrastructure – a theory of how clients improve, the procedures and principles therapists should adopt during psychotherapy and what signs to look for in clients to indicate therapy has been successful.  Although they vary – and in the past there have been major disagreements over which therapy is correct and which isn’t – there are probably a number of basic psychological processes which are shared and underlie the success of therapy generally.  Rogers, Truax and Carkhuff 1967 identified accurate empathy, trust in the therapist and warmth as key characteristics for therapeutic success but this refers more to the attributes of a good therapist rather than understanding the process of therapy.  Understanding emotional processing would go a long way to understanding and delineating some of the basic psychological change processes occurring during therapy.

For the therapist, there are advantages in understanding processes and mechanisms; it means they are not so tied to a therapeutic ‘package’ or set of procedures and can be more creative in adopting new procedures which tap into these processes. 

It is easy to see the application in conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder, sexual abuse or unresolved grief, where the problem presented is integrally related to an event which has not been fully processed.  Where the presentation is not obviously connected to a traumatic event eg depression, panic disorder, obsession and phobias, the role of emotional processing is more speculative.  However, even though emotional therapy may not be the first line of approach, it is likely to be applicable at some stage in the therapy.  For instance, even though cognitive therapy may be the primary treatment modality, there is no reason why an emotion based therapy should not act as an adjunctive therapy.  Generally, it could be said that the bigger the role of traumatic or noxious life events in the development and presentation of the problem, the greater the relevance of emotional processing.

‘Any man who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined’

Sam Goldwyn, Moguls