In the last blog post I made the point that emotional management is not a new idea. In fact these ideas date back thousands of years. In today’s post I’d like to bring the concept up to date by relating it to more modern therapeutic techniques and understandings.
It’s difficult to know where to begin in modernising this stuff. There have been so many incarnations, reinventions and refinements that making sense of them in a relatively short blog post is quite a difficult task. I’m certainly not going to attempt to cover everything – simply the main developments.
There are far more theories excluded than included here. In fact the big decision right now is not ‘what to include’ so much as ‘what to exclude’. Still I have to start somewhere so I’ve decided to begin with World War II.
Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist in Vienna at the time of the German occupation. He was also a Jew. Along with his new wife and many others he was crammed into a cattle truck and taken off to the labour camps. He was transferred between several camps until he eventually was liberated in 1945 along with the manuscript of his book ‘Man’s search for meaning’.
In this, one of over thirty books Frankl wrote until his death in 1997, he outlines the importance of purpose in dealing with adversity. Frankl had worked on these ideas before his incarceration but the experiences in the camps honed his thinking until he was able to publish the basics of what he called logotherapy after the war.
The name comes from the Greek word ‘logos’ which translates to ‘meaning’. The basic idea is that man can cope with any ‘what’ if he has a convincing ‘why’. This idea in itself was not new to Frankl but was a refinement of Friedrich Neitzsche’s earlier work on the subject.
The book can be harrowing to read in places but the insights into the human condition are remarkable. We see how the choices people made and the thoughts they allowed themselves to think directly contributed not only to their state of mind but also to their ultimate survival (assuming they had a chance to survive in the first place).
At around the same time an American analyst called Albert Ellis was developing a similair (but not identical) idea. His early model of understanding was based entirely upon using ideas to control emotions and relied upon twelve basic propositions. Ellis identified twelve irrational beliefs that lead to emotional distress and twelve rational ideas that people might choose to believe instead. By adopting a more rational attitude to life, Ellis argued, it would be possible to maintain emotional stability whatever problems the world might throw up.
Ellis defined two types of solutions:
- The empirical solution relies upon changing the world around us.
- The elegant solution relies upon changing the way we perceive (and therefore feel about) the world around us.
Ellis called his new model Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), a process which, in part, consists of helping people to recognise and eradicate their problematic beliefs and expectations. We’ll consider Ellis’ twelve beliefs in much more detail later.
One major criticism of Ellis’ model was the over-reliance upon thoughts (cognition) without really taking account of behavioural strategies. At least in the early stages of RET’s development behavioural and emotional changes were simply assumed to follow cognitive intervention without any need to address them directly.
For the inclusion of behavioural strategies we turn to Aaron Beck who began work on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. This technique is less prescriptive that Ellis’ RET and instead of providing ready made beliefs to adopt relies more upon techniques of discovery and real-world action to effect change.
Modern CBT relies heavily upon an ancient technique called ‘Socratic dialogue’ (also known as ‘guided discovery’) to help people to understand and so manage their distressing emotions. Practical experimentation and homework is emphasised to help people not only to record and assess the evidence of their experiences but also to draw sound, evidence-based conclusions. It is, in keeping with the prevailing ideas of the day, the most scientific approach to emotional control we have yet considered. In fact the scientific technique of evaluating empirical evidence is a key element of CBT.
Essentially Beck posited that the thoughts we think and the assumptions and interpretations we make determine mood. This, in turn affects our physiology through the actions of processes such as the freeze, flight or fight response and all these factors together determine behaviour. Because each behaviour changes the situation we find ourselves in (cause and effect) we develop a new thought in response to that change and so the cycle repeats itself.
CBT holds that by changing the nature of the cycle we can influence emotions and circumstances in both the short and long term.
Christine Padesky uses the analogy of the ‘hot cross bun’ to illustrate the four stages of the cognitive cycle.
We’ll look more closely at CBT and the ‘cognitive model’ later.
As we near the end of today’s blog post I’d like to bring in one more concept. This also mirrors several ancient philosophies and religious writings but the more contemporary term is ‘modelling’. Bandler & Grinder’s ‘Neuro Linguistic Programming’ (NLP) was once described by a close friend of mine as ‘rip-off’ therapy. This isn’t really fair but I know what he was getting at.
One of the better known techniques in NLP is modelling. Essentially this means that if you want to learn a skill then it’s important to think and behave like the experts do. To be an excellent marksman, for example, you must act and think the same way that other excellent marksmen (and, of course markswomen) do. There’s a beautiful illustration of this in the film ‘enemy at the gates’ in which it is clear that both thoughts and behaviours contribute to the skill of the sniper.
In athletics and other sports the notion of ‘autogenic conditioning’ relies heavily upon using thoughts and visualisations to enhance performance on the field. In terms of emotional management the same principles apply. By adopting the thoughts and behaviours that contribute to a particular emotion it becomes possible to create and maintain that emotion at will.
In the next section we’ll look in more detail at the cognitive model and the process of ‘formulation’ to explain how emotions develop and are either changed or maintained.
The ‘Emotional Management’ blog series first appeared during 2010 on Stuart’s personal blog. It is reproduced here as part of an ongoing process of ‘rationalisation’ to compress the contents of 5 blogs into just 2. You can download a PDF of the entire series (along with much more free stuff) from www.stuartsorensen.wordpress.com