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Observation and Reflection on Affective Experience and Communication

Posted Nov 27 2010 12:00am


“Civilization seems to require that we inhibit the free play of our emotions, and many have wondered what consequences such emotional inhibition might have.”  (Gross & Levenson, 1997, p. 95)  The word feeling is another word for emotion, and emotions represent the well from which many of our thoughts and actions flow.  “If we can identify and sort out clients’ feelings, we have a foundation for further action.”  (Ivey, Ivey, & Zalaquett, 2010, p. 190)  That further action, if there is to be any, should represent clarification of what has been dubbed “affective experience.”  In my view, that affective experience, properly channeled, is like channeling the flow from an artesian well.  If we are successful “the client will experience and understand their emotional state more fully and talk in more depth about feelings” or emotions.  (Ivey et al., 2010, p. 172)  In essence, clients tap the well of emotion that swells up inside of them… and the release of that pressure will result in both verbal and nonverbal expression.

If we succeed in tapping the well of emotion, the resulting flow of verbal and nonverbal expression of emotion allows us to functionally guide a client through a liquid reenactment of emotion experience.  “Human change and development is often rooted in emotional experience.”  (Ivey et al., 2010, p. 180)  Meaningful change, in my opinion, is difficult to obtain without addressing the emotions that will be leveraged to drive and guide that change… although difficulty dealing with emotions is not an insurmountable issue.  Research seems to support the view that difficulty or discomfort with emotional expression is less important than the bond between therapist and client.  In the same study, perception of treatment helpfulness was also capable of overcoming discomfort with emotional expression. (Cusack, Deane, Wilson, & Ciarrochi, 2006)  While emotions and feelings remain central to our profession, the efficacy of the treatment and the professional relationship continue to trump their significance in some circles.

As a client, I know when a therapy session goes well… it “just feels right.”  “Like other aspects of the non-sensory fringe of consciousness (e.g., feelings of familiarity, knowing, or causation), feelings of rightness are evident instantly, although they may be amorphous and fuzzy.  (Hicks, Cicero, Trent, Burton, & King, 2010, p. 967)  In my view, observing and reflecting feelings make it possible to be “right” more often, at least as it relates to tapping the our clients emotional wells and channeling that emotion to positive ends.

References

Cusack, J., Deane, F. P., Wilson, C. J., & Ciarrochi, J. (2006, April). Emotional expression, perceptions of therapy, and help-seeking intentions in men attending therapy services. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 7(2), 69-82. doi: 10.1037/1524-9220.7.2.69

Gross, J. J., & Levenson, R. W. (1997, Feb). Hiding feelings: The acute effects of inhibiting negative and positive emotion. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106(1), 95-103. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.106.1.95

Hicks, J. A., Cicero, D. C., Trent, J., Burton, C. M., & King, L. A. (2010, June). Positive affect, intuition, and feelings of meaning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(6), 967-979. doi: 10.1037/a0019377

Ivey, A. E., Ivey, M. B., & Zalaquett, C. P. (2010). Intentional interviewing & counseling (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

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