Helping hyperaroused clients learn to manage overwhelming emotions is like helping them steer a ship in stormy waters, says therapist and mindfulness practitioner Linda Graham. But helping them regain control doesn't mean the therapist alone takes the wheel, she explains. Although they might help the client calm down, therapists must next teach them concrete skills so they can walk away with the knowledge that they played an integral role in the healing process.
Here, Graham breaks down her "ABCs" approach to helping clients learn to regain mastery over these stormy emotions, and explains the integral roles that mindfulness and self-compassion play in this process.
Linda Graham, MFT, integrates relational psychology, mindfulness and neuroscience in her international trainings. She’s the author of Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster.
As Graham notes, it's important for clients to first recognize that their emotions are useful signals rather than annoyances. Befriending and thanking them, she says, is a vital form of self-compassion and a gateway to developing resilience. It's also important for therapists to offer positive reinforcement when they see progress unfolding in front of them, Graham says.
"As I see clients learning how to manage their emotions, I make a point of noticing and reflecting that back to them," she writes in her Networker blog. She might say something like, "'You did that. Maybe you didn't know you could, but you did!'" She continues: "When we help clients see their own growth and competence and resilience, they begin to trust it."
Graham quotes Louisa May Alcott in describing her clients' outlook once they've regained control: "I'm no longer afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship."