March 1, 2013
Here’s some promo for the latest products from the Psychotherapy Networker, a popular online resource for therapists—
“Learn how working with emotions can transform your practice”
“Gain the understanding, insight, and know-how to engage authentically with clients as emotions emerge”
“Working with emotions can be tough for both clients and therapists. This series is designed both to deepen your understanding of emotions and to strengthen your ability to work with them effectively. The focus is on providing you with practical insights that you can put to work right away.”
Really? Sounds like something from The Onion to me.
Aren’t emotions the stuff of psychotherapy? Is this an admission of a blatant omission in the therapist’s toolbox? What have therapists been doing all these years?
I know—they’ve been relating to emotional pain with cognitive and behavioral therapies. This unfortunate irony is only highlighted by the “revelation” of the Psychotherapy Networker (and several other organizations). I hadn’t realized that emotions had been so absent from psychotherapy training and literature that therapists have to be told to work with emotions and shown how.
What’s happening that emotions are hailed as the new frontier in psychotherapy? And what does it reveal about the depth of the cognitive bias of psychotherapy, psychology, and our overall culture?
At least in part, the surge of interest in emotion is coming from discoveries in neuroscience—which, even from reading just the popular press, seem to be made each day (and which are fascinating). But what are others doing with these discoveries? Quoting the Psychotherapy Networker again, “Neuroscientists have recently established that emotion is the prime organizing force shaping how we cope with challenges…emotion is anything but primitive and unpredictable. It’s a complex, exquisitely efficient information-processing system, designed to organize behavior rapidly in the interests of survival.”
Sounds just like a typical descriptions of cognition, doesn’t it?
For sure, Western culture has not been kind to emotion. It’s been ignored, demeaned and outcast as inferior to cognition, the enemy of rationality, characteristically female (and so unworthy of attention) for centuries. Even though feminist psychologists and philosophers have exposed the male biases of accepted conceptions of being human, the overall cultural environment of psychology and psychotherapy hasn’t changed much. Theoretically and institutionally, it remains paradigmatically male and cognitively overdetermined. I fear that legitimizing emotion because of findings in neuroscience—and distorting the enormous historical and cultural complexity of human emotionality to fit a cognitive, information-processing model will only makes it worse.
If you know of therapists who work with some kind of social-cultural understanding of human emotion, sing their praises! I do.