For the next few weeks Wellness Wednesday will explore different treatment modalities to assist readers in recognizing the variety of options available to them to support their needs and move forward towards wellness. We will also feature a few guest authors who specialize in different modalities, while #WellnessWednesday's Jessica enjoys a little vacation-based self-care. This weeks guest author is Dr. Jennifer Marcus, Clinical Psychologist and co-director of FLEX Psychology.
A couple weeks ago, we spoke about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and how therapy can target thoughts and behaviours in order to make changes in our emotional experience. In Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT), the emotions themselves are used to change the experience of emotions. Though this sounds like a more “direct” route if you want to feel less anxious or more happy, in practice it can be a little harder to work directly with emotions.
The premise behind EFT is that our emotional experience can tell us what is important in our lives, direct us to meaningful experiences, and foster growth. However, our past experiences, such as our childhood, relationships, or traumatic events, can influence our ability to attend to and regulate our emotions. When we have had challenging experiences in the past, we can become caught up in emotional states that can cause us harm, such as when we feel guilt, shame, and depression. Often, we push out these primary emotions in favour of emotions that are easier to express, like anger. However, reacting with anger when we actually feel hurt or sadness does not help us to manage these emotions and move past them.
The goal of EFT is to clarify adaptive emotional experiences in a safe space so that we can move forward in a healthier way. This includes bringing attention to the mix of emotions that people experience and increasing connection to emotions on a regular basis. The meaning of different emotions can also be shifted as these are explored more deeply in therapy. Part of EFT also includes counteracting repeated invalidation of emotions that many people experience throughout their lives. To support this, the relationship or alliance that you build with your EFT therapist is very important. It should be a place where you feel comfortable to explore the most uncomfortable feelings associated with key events now and in the past.
Practically, EFT can feel very different from CBT or ACT. Whereas the approaches we have discussed so far have a lot of practical strategies, this is not necessarily the case with EFT. Though some concrete exercises are performed in therapy and individuals usually show an increase in awareness of their own emotions, very little homework is usually given. Instead, sessions can focus on uncovering and reworking emotions and relational patterns that have arisen throughout an individual’s life. Through this change process, they can then act differently in their day to day lives and not be stuck in the patterns that they have experienced in the past.
Though EFT can sometimes feel challenging when you are not used to attending to emotions and giving them space, it is a very helpful approach that can highlight the strengths and resilience that are present in us. By validating our own negative emotions, understanding where they are coming from, and building our ability to experience positive emotions as well we can move forward in our lives in a more genuine way.
Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.