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Emotion-centered therapy: what it is and what problems it applies to

Emotion-centered therapy: what it is and what problems it applies to

June 12, 2024

The affective-emotional sphere is probably one of the most important when considering our level of well-being. How we feel and how we react to situations and the people around us affect our way of seeing reality (and also ourselves, others and the world itself) and our behavior. But it is not always easy to manage and manage our emotions and the way we structure and link them to events.

Sometimes severe conflicts may appear that may make it necessary to employ some type of therapy focused on these factors. While there are a variety of therapies that act on the emotional sphere, there is one that acts very specifically on them: emotion-centered therapy .

  • Related article: "The 8 types of emotions (classification and description)"

Emotion-centered therapy: what is it?

It receives the name of therapy centered in emotions or therapy focused in the emotions to a type of therapy or psychological treatment that, as its name indicates, is characterized by work specifically the emotional processing of situations , observing emotion as an adaptive reaction that allows survival and reaction to the environment as well as making us see our needs.

The therapy itself is deeply experiential, since the presence of changes depends largely on exposure to situations that generate emotions, and this appearance is sought in order to introduce changes in the schemes we use to deal with situations. In addition, this theory departs to a large extent from the humanist paradigm and client-centered therapy, seeking the development and optimization of the patient's potential. In fact, in its origin the therapy focused on emotions it was called Greenberg's experiential therapy .

The professional must adopt an empathetic and collaborative attitude, always accepting the reactions, emotions and motivations of the client or patient and trying to help detect emotions, focus and develop the subject's own autonomy, making him responsible for himself.

Emotion-centered therapy considers that emotion involves the emergence of physiological changes derived from the acquisition, interpretation and processing of external or internal information and our previous learning. Based on experience, we are generating a series of unconscious emotional schemes that lead us to a concrete way of reacting or feeling situations, being these schemes what is proposed to work during therapy.

The objective of this therapy is to help make patients able to identify, experiment without blocking, attribute a sense, communicate and adaptively manage their emotions. In short, efficiently manage your emotional sphere and achieve a good capacity to adapt to the environment. This is very useful in a wide variety of situations, such as for example before relational problems or after the presence of unwanted or traumatic experiences.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Types of psychological therapies"

Main mechanisms for change

With therapy focused on emotions, it is intended to achieve a change in emotional patterns, in the way of capturing, processing and expressing one's own emotionality. For this it is necessary to activate a series of mechanisms, highlighting the following.

1. Awareness

It is a factor that perhaps seems logical and simple, but that is decisive and is the basis when it comes to power introduce a change in the emotional schemes . Becoming aware or being able to distinguish, identify and name your own emotions is the most basic and fundamental step.

2. Emotional expression

Once the emotion itself is identified, it will be necessary to know and be able to express emotion, especially when we talk about negative emotions. It is rather a confrontation of emotion, of the fact of live it without introducing an avoidance that protects us against it .

3. Emotional regulation

In addition to identifying and living them, another of the mechanisms necessary to introduce changes is the fact of regulating emotion. Regular does not imply not feeling it or repressing it , but to be able to brake them or make them adaptive to the situation in which we are.

4. Reflection

Although already in the processing of emotion there are aspects and cognitive components, it is worth mentioning as another mechanism the ability to operate with information and give a sense to the experience.

5. Transformation

The last of the great mechanisms necessary for the change of emotions is transformation, that is, manage to modify the emotional experience to make it adaptive . An example may be the search for experiences that generate emotional responses incompatible with the initial emotion.

Situations in which it is usually applied

Focused therapy or focused on emotions is often used in specific situations and is usually linked to the treatment of relational problems, although it may have applicability in a large number of problems.

1. Couple therapy

One of the main contexts in which emotionally focused therapy is usually applied is in the world of the couple. And it has been shown that this type of therapy can allow work on emotional conflicts present in each of its members and on the relationship per se.

And it is that this modality allows working aspects such as attachment (not in vain is based in part on the theory of attachment) and to identify, express and share their emotions and affective needs. In this way this type of work can allow an improvement in the situation of each component of the couple and improve the existing communication, strengthening the existing link.

2. Family conflicts

In a similar way to the previous one, the therapy focused on emotions could become applicable in the family context, in order to be able to rework emotional schemes and communicate them efficiently.

  • Maybe you're interested: "The 8 types of family conflicts and how to manage them"

3. Problems of socialization

People with socialization problems derived from emotional problems can benefit from this type of therapy, learning to transform their feelings and fears and to accept them in such a way that they do not interfere in their relationships. Likewise, communication is favored .

4. Eating disorders

Emotion-centered therapy has been used in the case of patients with eating disorders, due among other aspects to the high presence of negative emotionality regarding self-concept. It seems to be useful both individually and as a group , pretending that they identify, naturalicen and modify the emotions that maintain the alimentary problem.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Emotion-centered therapy could be useful when working with the emotional sphere in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. Sexual abuse, bullying, gender or intrafamily violence are examples of situations in which it could be applied.


Depressive disorders have as one of the main and most frequent characteristics the existence of emotions such as sadness or hopelessness . Working in the processing of emotions and situations and in the variation of the schemes (both cognitive and emotional) will contribute to the subject presenting an improvement in their situation.

Bibliographic references:

  • Brennan, M .; Emmerling, M. & Welton, J. (2015). Emotion-focused group therapy: addressing self-criticism in the treatment of eating disorders. Counseling and Psychotherapy Research, 15 (1), 67-75.
  • Elliot, R .; Watson, J.C .; Goldman, Rh.N. & Greenberg, L.S. (2004). Learning Emotion-Focused Therapy. The Process-Experiential Approach to Change. American Psychological Association. Washington, D.C.
  • Greenberg, L.S .; Elliott, R. & Pos, A. (2010). Therapy focused on emotions: an overview.
  • Greenberg, L. and Watson, J. (2006). Emotion-focused therapy of depression. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Hervás, G. (2011). Psychopathology of emotional regulation: the role of emotional deficits in clinical disorders. Behavioral Psychology, 19 (2): 347-372.

Sue Johnson Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) in Action Video (June 2024).

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