What is Emotion Regulation Therapy?
Emotion regulation therapy is the name of a type of psychotherapy evolved out of the tradition of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Building on the effectiveness of cognitive approaches, emotion regulation therapy integrates aspects of other mindfulness and acceptance-based strategies. Emotion regulation therapy focuses specifically on building a toolkit for coping with emotional dysregulation.
Emotional dysregulation lies at the core of trauma, mental health imbalances, and substance use problems. Emotional dysregulation is an aftereffect of unhealed trauma, and is another way of understanding what people with mental health problems experience. Emotional dysregulation is also the condition that people who are use substances are self-medicating.
Emotion regulation therapy has been shown to work especially well at reducing painful symptoms experienced by people diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. Anxiety and depression are some of the most widespread forms of suffering, experienced daily by many millions of women, and are also connected to mental health imbalances, trauma and addiction.
Emotion regulation therapy helps people tolerate emotions without needing to react to them. Overall, emotion regulation therapy seeks to build skills that make life more livable, while keeping focus in the now moment. Emotion regulation therapy is a structured approach prioritizing recognition of one’s emotions and acknowledgment of inner conflicts. In particular, emotion regulation therapy emphasizes the importance of diminishing harshly self-critical thoughts, instead promoting a more compassionate way of relating to ourselves.
Emotional awareness is enhanced in Emotion regulation therapy through explaining the true purpose of feelings. Feelings are a form of internal feedback stemming from deep survival needs and conflicts among these.
In addition, meditation exercises are taught to help overcome patterns of avoidance, a strategy commonly relied upon by people with addiction. Through emotion regulation therapy, we learn to hold the presence of multiple, frequently contradictory emotions, sensations, and urges and still only take action that is genuinely best for us.
People with a lot of anxiety and depressed mood tend to look for ways to avoid having to consciously experience unpleasant feelings. Under the influence of overwhelming levels of anxiety and depression, we tend to look for reassurance from others and have above average need for coping strategies that counteract feelings of insecurity and negativity.
This tendency to look outside of ourselves for regulating factors, while natural given what’s going on inside of us, can result in problems for us as we define our life by the reactions and behaviors of others rather than sourcing from within us. Emotion regulation therapy helps bring balance back to our ways of relating with others, such that we are sourced from within, and also able to receive and give to others when and where this serves us and others.
How does Emotion Regulation Therapy work?
Emotion Regulation Therapy uses a combination of methods. Active imagination, gradual trigger re-exposure, and dialogue with inner conflicting sides of oneself are key aspects of the work.
Emotion regulation therapy works through pathways of mindfulness, acceptance, and cognitive reframing (changing thoughts and core mindset). Testing new behaviors out in reality and having different, better experiences due to different choices are part of the work as well.
One important objective of emotion regulation therapy is to support people to recognize the role of the inner critic and other negative introjects. Introjects are parts of us that we created during our younger years when we internalized the behavior and attitudes that key people from our past displayed.
For example, if our parents were very critical of themselves or us, we most likely took on this behavior as well. These sides of us were modeled after the people who influenced us most when we were small.
Once awareness has been raised regarding the impact of self-critical, self-rejecting voices, emotion regulation therapy will work with a person to build an alternative voice, which is a voice of love and self-acceptance, which creates a kinder inner environment that still deals effectively with realities and requirements of life but is more conducive to health and happiness.
An emotion regulation therapist may help by facilitating role plays between inner parts, in which through voicing the perspectives of inner allies, there is a gradual discovery of one’s true, more natural, and self-loving perspective on life.
Emotion regulation therapy will likely call upon a person’s values for this work, as often enough, it is through our values of human kindness that we eventually see that even we deserve our own love, forgiveness, and support to heal.
All in all, emotion regulation therapy is particularly helpful for helping people who get stuck in looping cycles of thought, also called rumination. Moving out of our heads and into the present moment and into the body, where loving emotions reside, helps us move past the rigidity and harshness of a life ruled by negative thoughts, judgment, perfectionism.
The Benefits of Emotion Regulation Therapy
The key benefits of Emotion Regulation Therapy include the return of choice as to how we experience our lives.
Before learning to regulate ourselves, we are at the mercy of states of being that are largely determined by our nervous system. We may experience negative emotions as happening to us without any choice on our part, as we also feel driven to think negative thoughts, not having yet had the experience of being practically able to choose different states of being.
The benefits of emotion regulation therapy, therefore, are fundamental in that they shift us from experiencing life as happening to us, in which we are passive participants doing our best to cope with unasked for negative experiences.
We shift instead towards something that more closely resembles being a co-creator of our own lives, in which we are in a better power balance with life. Although events still happen over which we have no control, the area over which we do have control (our inner psychological space, made up of our own thoughts and feelings) becomes ours to command.
Learning to steward our own inner experience has enormous benefits, including feeling more relaxed, safe, effective and capable. We feel more empowered to choose, knowing it is our responsibility and our right to explore this world and to learn from the results of our own choices.
We learn gradually to choose thoughts, emotional states, and actions which resonate deeply with who we are on the inside, as opposed to being haunted into conformity through fear of rejection. We become authentic and more powerful in our influence, right-sized as we seek neither to dominate others nor to shrink away.
Emotion Regulation Therapy trains people in a process which is repeatable over time, as many of its practices are to be carried forward in one’s life after treatment ends. Mindfulness methods, cognitive reframing exercises and processes, as well self-dialogue, are impactful life skills to carry forward and to apply to situations outside of therapy room.
The importance of Emotion Regulation Therapy during recovery
Emotion Regulation Therapy is highly applicable to recovery from substance use. That’s because the use of substances is itself an attempt at emotion regulation. Replacing the destructive, damaging use of substance with healthy, proactive tools that better achieve emotional regulation is an enormously positive shift.
The top skills taught by Emotion Regulation Therapy are self-awareness, self-compassion, mindfulness, cognitive reframing (choosing better-feeling thoughts), flexibility, and the ability to give and receive emotional support.
In early recovery our emotions are typically especially erratic, as we adapt to the absence of substances upon which we had been relying to tamp down, numb, or elevate our moods. In addition to the adjustment period to the absence of chemicals, recovery requires a journey into our underlying issues, those topics we have been using chemicals to avoid. These topics are inherently difficult to face, and they are challenging to revisit without going into states of extreme dysregulation.
When we have basic skills in emotional regulation, we will be better supported to face anything within our own psyches, including the worst parts of our stories. We learn to survive any kind of emotional reaction, no matter what the trigger.
As we learn to move through fear, anger, and shame, we become less worried about situations and events that can trigger us to experience those emotions.
Emotion Regulation Therapy options
In recognition of the high relevance of emotion regulation and to health, happiness, and well-being of women recovering from trauma, mental illness, and addiction, Villa Kali Ma integrates practices supporting emotion regulation into every aspect of our many programs.
Our variety of offerings provide many paths into support for this factor of recovery, with nutrition, breath, yoga, movement, creative expression, gardening and community activities all representing ways of learning tools for emotion regulation.
Furthermore, our clinical treatment team are trained in Emotion Regulation Therapy alongside other forms of therapies shown to be effective towards similar goals, including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy.
Our extensive range of offerings targeting trauma specifically, including Somatic therapy and EMDR therapy, will assist with Emotion Regulation as well.
Emotion regulation therapy may be found in other settings around the world, as the application of this modality is expanding. A search for private practice therapists who work with emotion regulation therapy or another, similar modality should help you connect with someone in your community or who will work online to support you with this method.