Head-to-Head with Emotion

Susan Johnson on Why Labeling Clients’ Emotions Isn’t Enough

Rich Simon

Emotions can be tricky—once they enter the consulting room, it’s easy for both therapists and clients to become stuck in, overwhelmed by, and embattled with strong emotions. It’s no surprise that so many models of therapy focus on changing clients’ problematic thoughts and behaviors—their unhealthy habits, outbursts, and destructive self-talk—while emotions take a back seat. When clients’ emotions are addressed in these cognition-focused models of therapy, they’re labeled and acknowledged without becoming central to the therapeutic process.

For Susan Johnson, naming emotions isn’t enough—therapists must also be willing to fully engage with clients who are experiencing powerful emotions. Sue skillfully addresses the tension we as therapists face in being with clients’ emotions while maintaining a regulated, safe, and effective therapeutic environment.

In this preview clip, she demonstrates what empathic engagement looks like—and how it differs from the way many therapists are used to working with emotion.

Susan Johnson is one of the developers of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), director of the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute and the International Center for Excellence in EFT. This clip is taken from her session in our emotions video course:

The Healing Power of Emotion
This course is designed to help you work with strong emotion so it becomes your therapeutic ally, not a disruptive force to be banished from the consulting room. Learn how to harness the healing power of emotion. Among the skills and approaches you'll master are:

  • Using emotion to repair and rebuild bonds between partners

  • Understanding the physiology and psychobiology of intense emotion, including tears

  • Helping clients find language to talk about nonverbal states

  • Helping clients access and maximize positive emotional states

  • Applying a concrete step-by-step approach for bringing new dimensions of emotional exploration into your work

  • Shaping strong emotions to open up new perceptions, meaning, and ways of responding to your clients

  • Supporting strong emotions without being intrusive

  • Helping angry clients rewire their brains

  • Using your face, hands, and voice to bring enhanced vitality and heightened awareness to clients' feeling states

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Topic: Professional Development | Anxiety/Depression | Couples | Trauma

Tags: add | brain science | couples therapist | Dan Siegel | depression | eft couples therapy | emotionally focused couples therapy | emotionally focused therapy | integrative mental health | mental health | psychotherapy | science | state of the art 2013 | therapist | therapists | virtual conference

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