NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Working Through Painful Emotions in Therapy

People often start therapy because they can no longer cope with painful emotions related to the past or to current events in their life.  In many cases, initially people avoid dealing with painful emotions for a period of time because they hope that these emotions will go away on their own over time.  But as I mentioned in a prior article, time often doesn't heal all wounds (see my article: Time Doesn't Heal All Wounds).

Working Through Painful Emotions in Therapy

So, when people see that they can no longer bury these emotions and that, in fact, these emotions are having an adverse impact on their life, they decide to come to therapy.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, it's common for most people to feel some degree of anxiety and ambivalence as they anticipate the start of therapy (see my article: Starting Therapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious or Ambivalent).

Often, people are afraid that they will feel overwhelmed in therapy by the painful emotions that they tried to avoid for so long.  However, psychotherapists who are trained to work with emotional trauma usually know how to titrate the work so that it isn't overwhelming for the client.  In addition, they are usually trained to help the client to de-escalate emotions so that these emotions are more manageable, as opposed to being overwhelming.

Most trauma therapists also prepare clients beforehand to deal with painful emotions that come up, so that they can usually manage their emotions between sessions.

Of course, this doesn't mean that working on a traumatic history will be completely pain free.  But once they begin therapy with a trauma therapist, most clients notice that, in addition to working on trauma in a titrated way, most emotions come in wave patterns with a beginning, middle and end within the same session.  So, the experience usually isn't unrelenting pain.

Also, many trauma therapists will include time to debrief to make sure that clients are feel relatively put together to face the world outside the therapy room after the session is over.  So, even though clients might anticipate that whole sessions will be intolerably painful, they are often surprised to discover that the sessions aren't as painful as they originally anticipated.

Part of the problem for many clients is that they remember what they felt when they were going through the traumatic event and they think they will feel the same way again.  But this usually isn't the case, especially in the case of unresolved childhood trauma.

One of the reasons for this is that, as adults, most people have a greater emotional capacity to deal with difficult emotions as compared to when they were children.

Also, when they're working on unresolved trauma, they are doing it in the presence of a therapist who is empathetic and trained to help the client to maintain dual awareness, which means that while clients are remembering the past, they are also aware that they aren't still in the past--they know that they're sitting with a skilled therapist in the present.  So, the past, even if it's the recent past, usually isn't experienced as being as disturbing as when the trauma originally occurred.

Clients will often comment that working through painful emotions in therapy is a relief because a heavy burden has been lifted from them.  They also begin to notice over time that they are gradually feeling better, experiencing themselves in a new way, and interacting with their loved ones and their environment in a better way.

Many clients have remarked in our sessions that if they had known that dealing with unresolved trauma wasn't as painful as they anticipated, they would have come to therapy much sooner rather than avoiding these issues.

Getting Help in Therapy
While it's understandable that no one wants to feel the pain related to unresolved trauma, these emotions rarely, if ever, resolve on their own and, in fact, these emotions often manifest in other ways, including in physical symptoms.

Working through painful emotions in therapy is a healing process, and healing helps to restore you to your true self (see my article: Becoming Your True Self).

If you have been avoiding dealing with a traumatic issue, you could benefit from working with an experienced trauma therapist.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, AEDP and Emotionally Focused therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I specialize in working with trauma.

I work with individual adults and couples.

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.