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What Do Tears Mean?

Jay Efran On Working Effectively With Client’s When They Cry.


There are all kinds of tears—tears of joy, grief, empathy, stress, and relief—to name just a few.

It’s the important work of therapists to understand what’s best to do when a client cries and to know when the best thing to do is nothing.

A professor of psychology, Jay Efran has developed a two-stage theory of tears that can help us in the moment. It’s built on an understanding of the physiology and psychobiology of tears, and on recognizing the connection between tears and parasympathetic recovery.

With this scientific foundation, Jay helps us explore the most effective way to respond when our clients cry. In this video clip, he lays out the basic thesis of the theory and gives a simple example to illustrate.

This is just one example of how what our Powered By Emotion webcast series has to offer—practical strategies for working with emotions to deepen therapeutic healing. The series features 6 recognized experts in the field—Susan Johnson, Rick Hanson, Jay Efran, Ron Potter-Efron, Joan Klagsbrun, and Diana Fosha, and it’s available now.

Powered By Emotion:
New Strategies for Deepening Therapeutic Healing
All 6 Sessions Are Available Now.
Click here for full course details.

You can learn more about Jay’s theory and approach from his article, written with Mitchell Greene, in the May/June 2012 issue of the Networker“Why We Cry: A Clinician’s Guide”

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5 Responses to What Do Tears Mean?

  1. This interesting but it seems like relief what about tears caused by emotional pain where the problem is not resolved?

  2. I do believe in what Jay Efran says about tears, and yes, Heid, tears do appear as well with pain in different settings. One case does not exclude the other. No conflict therefore in my understanding. And thanks, many thanks to Jay for this illuminating new understanding of tears…
    Salomon.

  3. I realize that the answer to my question might be found in the extended version of this interview. Notwithstanding, I can recall from my own childhood getting lost in the woods where I was crying long before anyone found me. How can this be accounted for in this phase 1/2 model?

  4. Hanusia says:

    Daniel – perhaps there was a period of searching, thinking, problem-solving and then, with no results, the system shifted into reaction mode rather than active problem-solving ?

    Could be the there is more to the 2-stage theory, when we factor in perceived ability to solve problems, our perceptions of the situation (“Oh, this is something I can solve.” vs “I’m stupid, I always get in trouble.”) and other variables.

    An interesting way to look at it, in any case.

  5. Carolyn says:

    Interesting theory but like Hanusia I think that it is likely more complicated. Attachment theory I believe suggests that tears are not just a recalibration of the body but a process to provoke support and comfort.
    Carolyn

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