These are exciting times in our field. There is increasing agreement from different areas of study, including developmental research, neuroscience and psychotherapy outcome studies, that we are emotional creatures, making most of our decisions on an emotional, rather than rational or logical basis. The cognitive revolution appears to be dead, now that our understanding of human functioning suggests that we are wired for emotion and for emotional connection with others. This emotional activation happens at lightening speed and is essentially an unconscious process. Not only have behavioral scientists come to understand this, but economists, market researchers, and the general public are now on to this new idea. David Brooks has just written a book for the general public called The Social Animal, which lays out the evidence for the public.
Within our field, there is also increasing agreement about the centrality of emotional awareness and regulation for both emotional and physical health and well being. Accumulating evidence suggests that the link between emotions and health is enormous. James Pennebaker has been researching this link for decades. The results clearly suggest that those who are aware of their emotions and allow themselves to experience and express them freely are happier, more productive, and healthier than their repressive cohorts. It seems that those who chronically repress their emotions simultaneously suppress their immune system, rendering them vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses. Conversely, those who focus on their feelings, especially regarding the most troubling and traumatic experiences of their lives, get a boost in immune functioning.
Even the pioneers of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, most notably, David Barlow, have come to conclude that we only need one therapy for all psychological disorders; namely a unified treatment that focuses on the awareness and regulation of emotion.In the Unified Protocol for Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders (2011), Barlow writes, “individuals with emotional disorders use maladaptive emotional regulation strategies – namely, attempts to avoid or dampen the intensity of uncomfortable emotions – which ultimately backfire and contribute to the maintenance of their symptoms” (pg.17). Given this, he suggests that our treatment efforts be designed to “help patients learn how to confront and experience uncomfortable emotions, and to respond to their emotions in more adaptive ways”. This is what psychodyanmic theory has always proposed, and what Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy has been designed to facilitate.
Why re-invent the wheel? Those who have been educated in the study of unconscious processes and dynamic psychotherapy clearly have an advantage here. Studies by Allan Abbass substantiate the view that Intensive short term Dynamic Psychotherapy is both cost effective and clinically effective. The data indicate that physical health improves markedly, in alignment with emotional health and well being.
I look forward to a wide and spirited discussion about these issues.
Patricia Coughlin, Ph.D.
March 31, 2011read more