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What are Emotions
Emotions are often how we first become aware of how we feel about an event, such as feeling happy, sad or afraid. This can happen even before we become aware of our thoughts about an event. We need to experience what our emotions are telling us and use our mind to work out the most helpful actions to take. This enables us to live according to our values and beliefs and provides us with the wisdom to guide our lives and our actions.

How Emotions Work
Our ability to work with our emotions and the emotions of others is referred to as emotional intelligence and allows us to live well and in harmony. The ability to feel emotions is a complex and sensitive mechanism that brings together memories of past experiences, thoughts, personality, and other aspects of ourselves into a single sensation. We need to experience our emotions to understand their meaning for us. Then we choose our action or response that fits with the emotional experience. When we say: “I just know”, I have a gut feeling”, “The vibes are good”, this indicates that both emotion and reason have combined to help us make decisions and take action. This sounds long and complicated, it may be, but it can also happen suddenly, almost instantaneously.

Emotions Alert Us
Emotions also act as an alert system for our survival and our well-being. They let us know that we need to do something, eg if a person is threatening you and you are feeling scared, you need to decide whether to leave, calm the person, or to stand up for your rights. If you choose to stand up to the conflict, anger will provide the energy and strength to do this.

Emotion-focused Coaching
In Emotion-focused coaching, we work with both your thoughts and feelings to make sense of what is happening to you, what meaning the emotions have for you, and what you need to do. It helps you become more aware of what is going on within you, to put the feelings and thoughts into words, to make sense of them and work out what the emotion is guiding you to do. But sometimes, because of past life experiences, healthy emotions can become unhealthy, maladaptive, toxic and they no longer provide helpful information. We need to work out which emotions are healthy and can be trusted and followed, and which are unhealthy and unhelpful and need to be transformed into healthy emotions.

Experiencing Emotions
Unhealthy emotions need to be explored either to get to what is underneath them, to find which emotions need to be regulated or transformed, and when to do each of these options. We have the ability to choose what we will do with our emotions, whether we will express them, change them or simply experience them. But we first need to experience them, identify, value and accept them for what they are telling us, not to ignore, suppress, avoid, or run away from them. We can avoid experiencing emotions in many ways, such as by keeping busy, watching TV, working too hard, using alcoholic or other substances, or playing lots of sport, eating, or just about anything.

Ways of Working with Emotions
There are different ways that you can work with emotions. These include:

  • Experience the emotion, learn what it is telling you and what you need to do. We will be doing this during sessions and there will be handouts that describe this process
  • Examine your thoughts (self-talk) and if they are unrealistic, negative, or catastrophic, challenge them and think about what is more likely and realistic
  • Self-soothe – Learning to calm and soothe yourself can be very helpful. If you are feeling overwhelmed by emotion, find a way to comfort yourself. This might be by phoning a friend and talking about it, going for a walk, playing with your pet, relaxing, playing music, or writing in your journal. You can work through the feeling when you are calmer
  • Distraction – if it is not a convenient time to experience the feeling, ignore the feeling as much as possible by concentrating on other things until there is time to work through the feeling. This is only a temporary method because it does not resolve the emotion and it is likely to happen again.

The coaching approach was introduced by Dr L. S. Greenberg. His book is: Greenberg, L. S. (2002) Emotion-focussed therapy: Coaching Clients to Work though their Feelings. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. His website www.emotionfocusedtherapy.org


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