The Power of Emotion in Therapy

The Power of Emotion in Therapy

How to Harness this Great Motivator

By Susan Johnson

May/June 2012

Neuroscientists have recently established emotion is the prime force shaping how we cope with life’s challenges. Psychotherapists are beginning to learn how to work with emotion, rather than trying to control it or creating change through purely cognitive or behavioral means.

“God guard me from those thoughts men think in the mind alone. He that sings a lasting song, thinks in a marrow-bone.”—W. B. Yeats.

Mike leans forward, and in a low, intense voice, says, “Look. It wasn’t my idea to see a couples therapist. And I hear that this therapy you do is all about emotions. Well, that about counts me out. First, I don’t have them the way she does.” He points to his wife, Emma, who’s staring angrily at the floor. “Second, I don’t want to have them or talk about them. I work through problems by just staying cool. I hold on tight and use my little gray cells.” He taps his head and sets his jaw. “Just tell me what’s wrong with us—why she’s so upset all the time—and I’ll fix the problem. Just tell me what to say, and I’ll say it. We were just fine until we started to have kids and she started complaining all the time. All this spewing of ‘feelings’ just makes things worse. It’s stupid.” He turns away from me, and the silence is filled with the sound of his wife’s weeping.

The irony of this type of drama never fails to intrigue me. In one of the most emotional scenarios ever—a couple trying to talk about their…

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Monday, December 29, 2014 9:40:25 PM | posted by uchennah Samuel
I found this article very informative, brilliant and amazing. As a new therapist struggling with staying with emotions, reading this article was a huge help.
Thank you so much for helping new and developing therapists become more effective in their work.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 7:37:13 PM | posted by Donna Weber
I can't believe I just found this post. I am so happy to learn that more people in the therapy profession are focusing on the importance of emotions. It has always seemed to me that we were leaving out a rather important part of what makes us human.

Thursday, September 20, 2012 11:43:38 AM | posted by Aurora
Hello! I've been reading your site for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Kingwood Texas! Just wanted to tell you keep up the great work!

Friday, June 29, 2012 8:22:21 PM | posted by jan
Good article. I know that catharsis can be extremely healing if done carefully. I also know that it the therapist is not paying attention it can re-traumatize people. As a meditator I was taught to allow my emotions to have their way with me and simply allow them to pass. This too is useful at times. How could anything in nature that is natural to a body be wrong?

Friday, June 29, 2012 7:03:24 PM | posted by cecilia berberich
Excellent article using the Attachment theory to a sense of emotional awareness, connection and security ; "...slow, soft, simple..." equals emotional "safety"....

Saturday, June 16, 2012 12:25:10 AM | posted by Tim
Excellent article that will inspire further reading.

Friday, June 8, 2012 6:51:56 PM | posted by Dash4you
Excellent material that helps me reflect on recent therapy where we entered to work on our relationship. My partner would not let go of her anger at me for taking care of my exhusband during a life threatening cardiac crisis. Long story, yet I choose to be there for our only child a successful adult daughter with two little girls who relied on her dad in many ways. I was able to be there for all of them for two months. Yet my partner saw this as an abandonment. I could never help her see my truth and the relationship ended. I continued to work in therapy
finding my own dependent attachment. Releasing myself has brought an opportunity to have a healthier relationship in my future. Accepting the end of my relationship has been painfully freeing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:10:56 AM | posted by Kimi
"Even with this more emotion-friendly attitude, it seems to me that, as a field, we still tend to err on the side of bypassing or containing emotion, rather than actively using it for change."

Arts therapists, particularly music therapists, have been doing a great job with this for decades. Unfortunately, turf issues have kept effective arts therapy treatments from rising to the prominence their effectiveness warrants.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 3:55:54 PM | posted by Noreen
Excellent article!