NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Allowing Yourself to Feel Your Feelings So You Can Heal

As a psychotherapist, many clients tell me that, before they came to therapy, they tried to suppress painful feelings because they were afraid that they would be overwhelmed.  But, as most people discover, when you try to suppress painful feelings, these feelings actually intensify.  So, in order to heal emotionally, you need to allow yourself to feel your feelings, and if you find this too difficult to do on your own, you can work with a psychotherapist who is trained to help clients through this healing process.

Allowing Yourself to Feel Your Feelings So You Can Heal

Feeling Your Feelings Can Free Up More Energy Within You
Aside from intensifying the emotional pain, suppressing your feelings also takes a lot of energy.

Many people who have worked through painful feelings in therapy realize just how much energy it took to suppress these feelings because they're suddenly aware of how much more energy they have since they stopped suppressing their painful feelings.

For many people, it opens up a new world.  They talk about feeling "more alive" and energetic as well as being open to new experiences.

Allowing Yourself to Feel Your Feelings in Therapy in a Safe and Supportive Environment
It's understandable that anyone might want to avoid feeling emotional pain, especially if he's trying to do it on his own.

If the feelings are related to an emotional trauma, experiencing painful feelings on your own can bring up memories of being alone when the trauma occurred, especially if they occurred when you were a child.

Early childhood emotional trauma is compounded when a child goes through it without emotional support from a compassionate adult.

But, for a variety of reasons, the adults in the child's environment might not be emotionally available to soothe the child.  They might be depressed or overwhelmed themselves.  So, the child goes through it alone and this adds to the child's trauma.

As a result, it's especially important for people who went through early childhood trauma to be in therapy in a supportive environment with a therapist who is skilled in helping clients to work through trauma in a gentle way.

I emphasize the word "gentle" because working on trauma in therapy needs to be done in a way where the work feels manageable and the client feels emotionally safe.

For people who have had complex trauma, "safe" might be a relative term, and it could take a while before they feel safe enough with a therapist before they can process the trauma in therapy.

Developing Internal Coping Skills in Therapy to Process the Trauma
Even though many clients who come to therapy want to "get rid of the bad feelings as quickly as possible," this is usually counterproductive because it's often too overwhelming to plunge into the deepest part of the trauma immediately.

After the initial stage of therapy where the client reveals the presenting problem and his history, the trauma therapist needs to assess the client's internal coping skills to assess his capacity to handle doing the work.

If it seems like the client will be easily overwhelmed, the therapist needs to help the client to develop the internal coping skills to do the work.  This preparation stage is a very important stage of therapy that is often overlooked by inexperienced therapists who might yield to a client's demands to start working directly on the trauma immediately.

Preparing the client to develop internal coping skills to process the trauma is called "resourcing" (see my article about resourcing).

Developing Internal Coping Skills in Therapy

In addition to having a compassionate, skilled therapist, developing internal resources gives the client the tools necessary to deal with whatever comes up during the therapy session or between sessions.

After clients have developed the internal resources to process emotional trauma, most clients say that processing the trauma in therapy feels like a manageable process, and many of them wish they had not waited to get help.

In addition to helping clients to prepare for trauma work, a skilled therapist knows how to track what's going on emotionally with the client in session and also teaches the client how to track their own feelings.

How does the therapist help the client to track their own feelings?  Well, there are many ways.  One of the most important ways is to help the client to recognize what's going on in the client's body (see my article: The Mind-Body Connection: The Body Offers a Window Into the Mind).

The body holds both conscious and unconscious emotions, so if the client is able to identify those emotions based on what she feels in her body, she will develop a greater capacity to access and identify feelings.

The Mind-Body Connection: The Body Holds Conscious and Unconscious Emotions

For many clients who have been traumatized, learning to access and identify feelings in the body is something that has to be learned with the help of the therapist because they might be emotionally numb at first.

Emotional numbing is a defense mechanism that might have been very helpful if a child was  overwhelmed with emotion and there was no one to help her.  But emotional numbing as an adult isn't helpful--it gets in the way of knowing what you feel.  It also gets in the way of having relationships with other people.

Not only that--when you numb yourself, you don't just numb the painful feelings, you numb all your feelings, including the happy ones.  After a while, you just feel emotionally "flat."

Experiential Therapy in Trauma Work
Over the years, I've discovered that regular talk therapy isn't always effective for all clients who come to therapy to work on traumatic experiences.

One of the problems with regular talk therapy for many clients, especially clients who have been in talk therapy before, is that they learn how to talk about the trauma so that it remains an intellectual experience for them and not a healing experience.

Rather than feeling their feelings, they've learned to intellectualize about it.  They can describe it and explain it and even have intellectual insight about their problem, but they still feel the same--nothing changes.

It's as if their heads are separated experientially from their bodies, which makes it difficult to access their emotions.

There are different types of experiential therapy that, in my professional opinion, are better for processing emotional trauma than talk therapy, and these include:  EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Coherence Therapy and clinical hypnosis (see my article: Experiential Therapy Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Choosing a Psychotherapist
One of the best predictors of a good outcome in therapy is a good therapeutic rapport between the client and the therapist.

When you first meet a psychotherapist for a consultation, it's important to be able to distinguish your general feeling of anxiety about coming for therapy from whether or not you feel comfortable with the therapist (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

If you've had a significant history of emotional trauma, especially early childhood trauma, you might find it difficult to trust anyone.

This is understandable and an experienced, compassionate therapist will understand that it might take a while for you to develop enough trust to begin processing the trauma.  With the help of your therapist, you might need to spend more time building a rapport and doing preparation for processing the trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
Although allowing yourself to feel painful feelings can seem like a daunting and scary process, avoiding feeling your emotions only make things worse.

The only way to heal emotionally is by going through the process.

Ensuring the best possible experience in therapy involves choosing an experienced and skilled psychotherapist with whom you feel a rapport.

If trying to deal with your problems on your own hasn't worked for you, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who can help you to heal and live a more 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 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.