Learning to Self Soothe

The value of the relationship between an individual and their therapist was emphasized at the most recent Grand Rounds session. Highlighting Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) as a form of psychotherapy which may be used in treating some mental illnesses, Dr. Patrick Lo stressed that this therapy offered a holistic view of the self and that the relationship with the person being treated was important.

A physician at Ontario Shores, Dr. Lo introduced the audience to EFT techniques to achieve particular breakthroughs.    Dr. Lo shared the example of how a 38 year old female who was living with depression; had a deep sense of abandonment; was extremely critical of herself; and had a strong sense of vulnerability and feeling unsafe was successfully treated with EFT as part of her care plan. “The strategies of self-soothing and addressing the critical self allowed her to have a breakthrough,” says Dr. Lo.

“Emotion is an innate and adaptive system that alerts us to situations that are important to our wellbeing, then prepares and guides us to action,” Dr. Lo explains.  For example, feeling fear alerts someone to a threatening situation and then prepares them to take the action of fleeing.

EFT is used to help persons regulate their emotions and change the way they may react to situations based on early attachments or prior experiences. “When someone is not in touch with their feelings, there is very little chance for change, “adds Dr. Lo.
“Emotions can be very scary and self-soothing helps,” says Dr. Lo. This is one way to regulate your emotions by going on a process to be tender, caring and comforting to yourself during a negative emotional period.

Each person has many emotional schemes that may be activated separately or simultaneously and these inform the way we respond to a particular situation.

One emotion response form is called the primary adaptive.  This is usually your core gut feeling and it is directly related to your implicit personal need.  This may not always be the emotion that is conveyed.  Another emotion response is the secondary reactive.  In this case, emotion is usually used as a defense to cover the primary feeling. It is usually learned and based on cultural experience.  For example, anger may be used to cover the true emotion of sadness because men aren’t supposed to show sadness.

There are also maladaptive emotions based on things that made sense in the past.  In this case, the person may seem stuck in that emotional response.  And fourthly, there is the instrumental emotion which usually serves a purpose.  The individual may not truly feel the emotion, but uses it consciously to meet a need.  For example, tears are used to get sympathy or anger is used to intimidate.

The guideline used in the therapy is to explore the differentiated feelings and dispel the secondary emotions that may be used to cover true feelings.  The primary emotion is usually sadness, fear, shame or abandonment.  These are addressed by either using strategies of self soothing, grieving appropriately or asserting anger with the ultimate goal of letting the emotion go.