NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, November 27, 2017

What is the Corrective Emotional Experience in Therapy?

Most contemporary psychotherapists today agree that intellectual insight alone isn't enough to repair traumatic experiences.  Many of them would agree that a corrective emotional experience in therapy can go a long way to healing trauma and is a much more transformative experience for clients than developing intellectual insight alone (see my articles: Experiential Therapy Can Lead to Emotional Breakthroughs and The Therapist's Empathic Attunement Can Be Emotionally Reparative For the Client).

What is the Corrective Emotional Experience in Therapy?

What is the Corrective Emotional Experience in Therapy?
The concept of the corrective emotional experience in therapy was developed by Franz Alexander and Thomas M. French.

The corrective emotional experience in therapy occurs when the client has an experience with the therapist that challenges old distorted beliefs and perceptions.

For instance, if a man grew up with an emotionally abusive or neglectful mother, he might have the distorted belief that "all women are abusive and neglectful, and they can't be trusted."

If this same man comes to therapy and he experiences a woman therapist as being empathetic, warm and trustworthy, he is having an experience with his therapist that challenges his belief about women.    He is now having a new experience that he and his therapist can explore further in therapy.

In other words, he is having a corrective emotional experience that can be healing for him and help him to grow.

A Fictionalized Vignette as an Example of the Corrective Emotional Experience in Therapy

As an only child, Sam grew up with parents who were preoccupied with their own lives and who didn't have much time for Sam.

Sam spent most of his time with his nanny, who provided basic care, but who wasn't especially warm or caring.

Even before Sam was born, his parents knew that they wanted a child who would eventually follow in his father's footsteps.  Sam's father had his own law firm, and he expected that any child of his would eventually join the firm.

From an early age, Sam was aware of his parents' wishes.  Although he loved to paint and he wanted to be an artist, he hid his passion for painting from his parents because he knew they would disapprove.  This made Sam feel invisible to his parents (see my article: Growing Up Feeling Invisible and Emotionally Invalidated).

Instead of showing his parents how passionately he loved to paint, he pretended that he wanted to be an attorney because he knew this was the only way that his parents would approve of him.

Whenever his parents talked to him about law school, Sam would pretend that he was interested and his parents were happy and praised him.  But hiding such an important part of himself and pretending to be someone that he wasn't made Sam feel ashamed, guilty, lonely and a fraud (see my articles: Understanding the False Self: Part 1 and Understanding the False Self - Part 2: Getting Help in Therapy).

As a result of pretending to be what his parents wanted him to be, Sam believed that no one would accept him for who he is and, if he wanted to get along in the world, he would need to pretend to be someone else.

Throughout law school, Sam felt depressed.  He did well academically because he was smart, but his heart wasn't in it.

Sam's parents never seemed to notice that Sam was unhappy.

Sam felt that his parents didn't see him for himself at all and had no idea who he really was.  They only cared that he gratified their wishes.

After he joined his father's law firm, Sam was miserable.  He hated the work and didn't feel suited for it.  He longed to paint and to be his own person.

Beyond casually dating, Sam avoided getting into a relationship because he didn't believe that any woman could appreciate him for who he really was.

What is the Corrective Emotional Experience in Therapy?

When it became too much of an emotional strain, Sam began therapy.

At first, Sam was afraid to express his true desire to become an artist.  He feared that his therapist would be like his parents and would show disdain for his passion.

But one day when he was talking about how miserable he was as a lawyer, his therapist asked him what he would really like to do, and Sam took a risk and told her that he loved to paint and he had always wanted to be an artist, but he feared displeasing his parents.  At that point, he discovered that his therapist worked with many different kinds of artists, and he was relieved.

This discussion opened up a much larger discussion for many sessions about how Sam believed that no one could really care for him as he really is and he needed to pretend to be someone else (see my article: Overcoming the Fear that People Won't Like You If They Knew the Real You).

What is the Corrective Emotional Experience in Therapy?

As Sam opened up more with his therapist, he sensed her compassion and genuine interest in him and his passion for painting and this allowed him to be more open and vulnerable with her (see my article: Why is Empathy Important in Psychotherapy? and The Holding Environment in Therapy: Maintaining a Safe Therapeutic Environment For the Client).

As they talked about what it was like for Sam to experience a caring, open and compassionate individual who was genuinely interested in Sam for who he really is--rather than who he thought he had to pretend to be--Sam had an emotional breakthrough.  This was his corrective emotional experience and he realized that his belief that no one could ever accept his true self was a distortion.

Sam mourned in therapy for what he didn't get from his parents.  He also continued to allow himself to be genuine and vulnerable with his therapist, which was emotionally healing.

Eventually, not withstanding his parents' disapproval, Sam began a Master in Fine Arts program to pursue his love of painting.

He also began dating and felt for the first time that he might meet a woman who would care for him as his true self (see my article: Becoming Your True Self).

Corrective emotional experiences can occur in therapy when the therapist is empathetic and can provide the client with a new healing experience that challenges distorted beliefs and perceptions.

In order to experience the corrective emotional experience, the client must feel safe enough with the therapist to have a new experience.  For some people, who are severely traumatized, it might take a while to trust the therapist enough to allow this experience to occur.

The corrective emotional experience is a transformative experience for the client and opens up the possibility for big changes and psychological growth.

Getting Help in Therapy
Traumatic childhood experiences are difficult to overcome on your own.

As a result of those traumatic experiences, you might have developed certain beliefs and perceptions about yourself and others that are distorted.

Psychotherapy with a skilled therapist, who knows how to provide a safe and trusting therapeutic environment, can lead to a corrective emotional experience that can transform your life.

Rather than allowing distorted beliefs perceptions to limit your sense of yourself and others, you could benefit from working with an experienced psychotherapist who can help you overcome these obstacles.

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

I provide an empathetic and supportive therapeutic environment for clients to allow them to have emotional breakthroughs in therapy.

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.