Mental Health Professional Shares How We Can Learn from Our Emotions
This month’s blog post is based on an interview with Julie Kirtz, one of the many talented therapists at The Women’s Center. Julie works with clients to ease emotional concerns, anxiety, depression, and burnout.
There are many different approaches and schools of thought when it comes to mental health therapy. Although most of them share the same underlying goal or purpose, they offer distinct ways of achieving it. Some types of therapy work best for specific conditions. Others are more general. While some therapists adhere specifically to one approach, most blend approaches and customize an integrated counseling program for each client, based on their individual needs.
One therapeutic approach that The Women’s Center therapist Julie Kirtz deems important is Emotion-Focused Therapy, an approach that sees emotions as a valuable guide for individual choice and decision making. Emotion-Focused Therapy prioritizes feelings during therapy sessions. This type of therapy assumes that lacking emotional awareness or avoiding unpleasant feelings can cause harm, as it may render us unable to use the important information emotions provide.
Julie views Emotion-Focused Therapy as an important component of mental health treatment. Much of her work in a session focuses on helping clients experience their feelings as fully as possible to develop cognitive awareness. The aim is to balance emotions with thoughts so clients can be comfortable with their feelings and think clearly. Many people have tried to ignore (or have avoided dealing with) their emotions, particularly during the pandemic.
Summertime is supposed to be carefree and fun. However, the expectation of having an “Instagram-worthy” summer can cause anxiety. Allowing worry and doubts to build up by ignoring or repressing feelings can lead to future issues – including altering the ability to process and manage emotions later on.
Julie recommends always paying attention to your emotions. Specifically, understanding, acknowledging, and using your emotions as data to guide you is often an effective way to positive mental health. “I put emotions front-and-center in a session to help people know themselves, communicate their feelings, and make better decisions,” says Julie.
As an example, Julie has recently worked with an individual struggling to re-enter the workforce after taking time off during the pandemic. The first step of the therapy was to identify the strong emotions that were blocking the client from even starting the job search. The emotion-focused approach uncovered the fear of rejection and failure. In this case, the mere acknowledgment of these negative emotions helped the client feel comfortable with her anxiety and enabled her to start taking small, tangible steps forward, such as looking up job openings.
Tips for using emotions to drive positive mental health
- Be open and honest
First, gain awareness of your emotions and acknowledge them, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. Ask yourself: What’s going on inside of me? What sensations am I experiencing right now? Am I avoiding a difficult feeling?
- Pay attention
Slow down and breathe to understand what the feeling is trying to tell you.. Stay with it and wait to see what comes up, instead of brushing the feeling aside or distracting yourself.
- Use emotions as data
Strive to understand the “why” behind your emotions and use the information as an empowering way to guide your actions in a healthy direction. Understanding the core meaning of an emotion can help you express yourself more authentically to those you love.
- Don’t repress or ignore
The goal is to tolerate and regulate your strong emotions. This makes it less likely for them to build up. Being comfortable with your feelings can help you know yourself better and be close to others.
Feelings are complex. From joy, gratitude, love, excitement to sadness, fear, or anger–our emotions vary and fluctuate throughout our daily lives. Because they impact our judgment and decisions, understanding them is critical to mental health. Emotion-Focused Therapy can help individuals struggling to regulate and cope with difficult or intense feelings. With over 65 professionally trained therapists on staff, The Women’s Center meets the diverse psychological needs of women, men, children, couples, and families by offering numerous services and specialties.