Since starting my training I have often wondered where feelings reside from within the body and to what degree do they inform our reasoning and decision making. Damasio suggests emotions are inseparable from the idea of reward or punishment or reward, of pleasure or pain, of approach or withdrawal that are integral to our survival (1999: 41). Yet how can we, as trainee therapists, begin to work in a safe and contained manner with clients who express difficult emotions or are ill-equipped to manage their own emotional experiences?
Emotional development takes places in the limbic centre of the brain, an area situated in the right hemisphere where a group of linked structures develop social and emotional intelligence (Liebmann, 2008: 90). The amygdala, for instance, is important for emotional responses to threats and impulses whereas the hippocampus stores emotional memory.
Robert Plutchik’s psychoevolutionary theory of emotion identifies that there are 8 primary emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. These primary emotions are all characterised by their adaptive action tendencies, which are designed to change the organism’s relationship with their environment. For instance, ‘In anger we puff up and become larger, thrusting forward; in fear we shrink away, in sadness we lower our eyes and close down, whereas interest and happiness open us up to the world’ (Greenberg & Paivio, 1997: 17).
In a therapeutic context, it’s important to help clients attend to their own bodily-felt experiences, drawing attention to their breathing, signs, posture, vocal quality, and facial expressions. Enabling clients to adopt this internal focus, rather than focussing on changing their environment, can be self-empowering (Greenberg & Paivio, 1997: 17).
Damasio, A., (1999), The Feelings of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness, London: Vintage
DEEPER MIND, (2011), The Search for Basic Emotions, Available at: http://www.deepermind.com/02clarty.htm, (accessed: 19.10.14)
Greenberg, L. S. & S. C. Paivio, (1997), Working with Emotions in Psychotherapy, New York: Guilford Press
Imgkid (2014), Limbic System and Emotion, Available at: http://imgkid.com/limbic-system-and-emotion.shtml, (accessed: 14.11.14)
Liebmann, M., (2008), Art Therapy and Anger, London: Jessica Kingsley