Adult Therapy: How Psychotherapy Brings About Emotional Change
For many individuals, the way in which psychotherapy works is a mystery. However, research has identified six sequential processes which bring about meaningful and lasting emotional change. Regardless of theoretical orientation, any good psychotherapist has the skills needed to help facilitate an individual’s navigation of these processes in their quest for an improved emotional life.
The first step toward emotional change needs to be access to and awareness of emotions. Psychotherapy provides the time and setting where an individual is prompted to reflect upon feelings which are experienced in various situations. Through the technique of active listening the therapist prompts the individual’s efforts to verbalize their thoughts, ideas and feelings.
The expression of emotion in a psychotherapy setting allows the individual to move beyond merely saying the words that symbolize their emotional states. By providing empathic validation, the therapist supports the individual in their full expression and re-experiencing of the emotions which have been identified. The second process identified as part of emotional change is this experience of freely and fully expressing emotions.
By experiencing empathy provided by the therapist week after week, an individual will internalize this technique and other tools for self-soothing. During therapy the therapist exerts some control over the intensity of the re-experienced emotions. Through the repetition of this process the individual learns ways to regulate their own emotions. This self-regulation of emotion is the third variable involved in the process of emotional change.
The fourth process identified that is responsible for bringing about emotional change is the habit of reflection. Weekly psychotherapy is a formalized way to reflect on thoughts and feelings; an individual will find the experience of having feelings validated by the therapist reinforces this habit of reflection.
The therapy setting also promotes the observation of the transformation of emotions over time. The therapist employs the technique of clarification to help the individual reformulate the understanding of their emotions into a more coherent view, sometimes utilizing interpretation to link a patient’s feeling, thoughts, behavior or symptom to its unconscious meaning or origin. It is this process of transformation, which involves the experience and understanding of multiple emotions in a coherent way, that has been identified as the fifth variable which brings about emotional change.
The sixth process which brings about meaningful emotional change is the corrective emotional experience of having a different emotional response to a particular situation. The therapist can provide a different emotional response to an individual and can help them gain awareness of many differing responses across an array of situations. Sometimes a therapist may use gentle confrontation to assist an individual in addressing avoided emotions. Having a wider range of emotions is the end result of the experience of these six processes which bring about emotional change.