NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Emotional Trauma Often Creates Negative Expectations About the Future

People who suffer with a history of emotional trauma often have negative expectations for the future because of their trauma.  This is a common experience that many psychotherapists see in their clients, especially among adults with early childhood trauma.

 Emotional Trauma Often Creates Negative Expectations About the Future

Negative Expectations About the Future Are Often Unconscious
These negative expectations are often unconscious so people, who experience them, often don't question them because these thoughts are outside of their conscious awareness.

However a skilled therapist, who is attuned to clients, can recognize these negative expectations, especially when these clients talk about their future in an overly pessimistic way.

If a traumatized client is in therapy where only cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used, the therapist usually will point out the distortions in the way that the client is thinking and the problematic behavior that s/he is engaging in.

This is a useful first step because it makes clients' unconscious feelings conscious and they can learn to become aware of these feelings in order to change them.

By becoming aware of their pessimism, they can begin to challenge their thoughts and feelings by asking themselves if these thoughts and feelings are objectively true.  This assumes that clients can take a step back for self reflection.

If they're able to challenge their thoughts and feelings, they might be able to entertain an alternate scenario where the possibility of the future could be more realistic.

If they're not at the point where they can actually imagine a positive future for themselves, they might, at least, be able to see that there is the potential for a future that is better than their past or present experiences.

Counteractive Therapy vs Experiential Therapy
As I mentioned in a prior article, Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Helps to Achieve Transformational Breakthroughs, CBT works as a counteractive therapy that provides clients in therapy with an alternate scenario to their usual way of thinking and feeling.

But, for many traumatized clients, this form of counteractive therapy isn't enough.  They can see the distortions in their thinking, but they're unable to feel it in an authentic way or to change it.

Emotional Trauma Often Creates Negative Expectations About the Future

This can be very frustrating and, for some clients, it makes them feel ashamed.  They feel like they're "not doing therapy right."  For some clients, the contradiction between how they feel and what they can  see can make them feel that there's something seriously wrong with them.

These clients often leave therapy because they continue to have negative expectations for their future.  At that point, they leave therapy with the idea that "I tried therapy--it doesn't work for me."

But the problem isn't with the client.  The problem is with the type of therapy, CBT.

Experiential Therapy and Brain Research
When it works, CBT affects the logical part of the brain, but it often has no impact on the emotional part of the brain, which is the part of the brain that needs to be changed when emotional trauma is involved.

We're fortunate now to have the brain research to prove this, as cited in Unlocking the Emotional Brain: Eliminating Symptoms at Their Roots Using Memory Reconsolidation by Bruce Ecker, Robin Ticic, Laurel Hulley and Robert A. Neimeyer, and in other recent books and articles about brain research as it applies to emotional trauma.

Experiential Therapy and Brain Research

In their book, the authors discuss research that demonstrates that experiential therapies, like EMDR and other similar types of therapy, help these clients to have a transformational experience, as I mentioned in my prior article about experiential therapy.

Rather than just being a counteractive therapy that only provides an alternative on a logical level, experiential therapy affects the limbic system so that the client not only recognizes the distortion on a cognitive level--they also feel it.

With experiential therapies, like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis, clients remember the narrative of their traumatic memories, but they experience the memories differently on an emotional level from how they did before they came to therapy.

Experiential Therapies Can Provide Transformative Experiences

Often, clients, who participate in experiential therapy, will make comments like:
  • "When I think about the memories, I remember everything that happened, but I no longer feel traumatized."
  • "I never thought I would be able to think about these memories without feeling upset about them."
  • "I used to feel so upset by these memories, but now when I think about them, my feelings about them are neutral."
Experiential therapies also help clients to overcome feelings of foreboding (based on their trauma past) about the future.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have a history of trauma that causes you to feel pessimistic about your future, you could benefit from getting help in therapy with a licensed psychotherapist who provides experiential therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy

Rather than feeling trapped by your emotional history, you could be free to live a fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome emotional trauma.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.