According to insights from emotion-focused therapy (EFT), emotional awareness, accepting each emotion, and knowing how to work with emotions are important skills essential to wellbeing. As a therapist, you can help your clients make progress by guiding them to understand how their emotions work and how to glean information from the emotions they experience. In this post, we explore techniques from emotion-focused therapy and how to use a list of emotions to help your clients become familiar and comfortable with their emotions.
Emotion-Focused Skills Based on EFT
EFT is based on the fact that emotions are often experienced physically in the body, cause physiological changes, influence thinking, and guide behavior. For change to occur, clients must be aware of the emotions they experience, learn to accept them, and understand how to manage them. EFT is designed to teach several critical skills:
- Awareness and acceptance of experienced emotions
- Understanding the messages that emotions are trying to convey
- Welcoming and allowing emotions
- Describing emotions clearly and in detail
- Awareness of layers of emotional experiences
- Evaluation of an emotion’s helpfulness in a situation
- Using emotions to guide action
- Identifying the source of emotions
- Developing healthy ways to cope with problems and respond in beneficial ways
- Creating personal scripts that help challenge maladaptive thoughts
Rumi beautifully describes the technique of accepting emotions and learning from them in “The Guesthouse.” Some clients may appreciate the visual it provides. Here’s the full text of the poem.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jalaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks
Clients benefit when they welcome all emotions, even the difficult ones, as messengers. And guiding clients through this process is a meaningful way you can help them.
List of Emotions to Help Clients Identify Each Emotion
Before a client can begin to accept the emotions they experience, they must be able to identify each emotion accurately. Paul Ekman, a psychologist and leading researcher on emotions, developed an Atlas of Emotions based on five primary categories of emotions: anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and enjoyment.
This framework helps clients because it allows them to place the emotion they’re currently experiencing into a main category and then proceed to fine-tune identification. Here’s the full Atlas of Emotions list.
Other Emotion Lists
The Atlas of Emotions is only one of several lists of emotions that psychologists have developed. Various other professionals have created lists since Ekman developed his Atlas in the early 1990s. In 2017, researchers at University of California, Berkeley identified 27 categories of emotional responses to a series of videos: admiration, adoration, aesthetic appreciation, amusement, anger, anxiety, awe, awkwardness, boredom, calmness, confusion, craving, disgust, empathic pain, entrancement, excitement, fear, horror, interest, joy, nostalgia, relief, romance, sadness, satisfaction, sexual desire, and surprise.
Exploring various lists will allow you to determine what will be most helpful to your clients. You may also want to create your own list based on a combination of these frameworks.
For clients to see their emotions as valuable sources of information instead of merely painful or difficult states of being, they must learn to identify and accept these emotions. Providing clients with a list of emotions and helping them to understand the difference between various emotions will allow them to work with their emotions more effectively.
Ready for an EHR to streamline your practice management?