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Emotion-focused therapy workshop series (first post): excitement and why am I doing this?

I woke gently bubbling with excitement.  I'm off in a couple of hours or so to Glasgow to join a course entitled "Emotion-focused psychotherapy: Level 2 workshop series".  Sadly I missed the first day of this seven seminar sequence - I was at the October Scottish Mixed Group peer residential.  Hopefully I'll get to all of the next six.  There's a seminar scheduled for today and then one a month from January through until May.  I believe there will be about 20 participants, presumably all pretty experienced psychotherapists/counsellors.  What fun!

As a psychotherapist who is primarily cognitive-behavioural in orientation, why am I putting in all this time & effort to deepen my understanding & skills in Emotion-focused therapy (EFT)?  Well, EFT/Gestalt techniques have widely infiltrated a whole series of areas in CBT.  So Arntz & colleagues' very successful schema therapy draws heavily on EFT - see, for example, their book "Schema therapy for borderline personality disorder" and extending the approach out to Axis I disorders too, their forthcoming publication "Schema therapy in practice".  Paul Gilbert's CBT-related Compassionate Mind work also incorporates EFT/Gestalt derived methods - see "Compassion: Conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy" - and Kristin Neff's paper "Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning" (available in free full text from Neff's website) demonstrates significant increases in self-compassion and decreases in self-criticism three weeks after a 20 to 30 minute Gestalt two chair dialogue exercise.  Work on PTSD can also draw on these experiential methods, and the current surge of interest in imagery overlaps into this territory as well - see the recent "Oxford guide to imagery in cognitive therapy".   

Emotion-focused approaches have come out well in research too.  Jean Watson & colleagues' paper "Comparing the effectiveness of process-experiential with cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy in the treatment of depression" demonstrated equivalence of the two methods but additionally " ... there was a significantly greater decrease in clients' self-reports of their interpersonal problems in process-experiential than cognitive-behavioral therapy."  In a comparison with client-centered counselling - "Maintenance of gains following experiential therapies for depression" - Les Greenberg et al reported "EFT treatment showed superior effects across 18 months in terms of less depressive relapse and greater number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic weeks, and the probability of maintaining treatment gains was significantly more likely in the EFT treatment than in the CC treatment. In addition, follow-up self-report results demonstrated significantly greater effects for EFT clients on reduction of depression and improvement of self-esteem ... Maintenance of treatment gains following an empathic relational treatment appears to be enhanced by the addition of specific experiential and gestalt-derived emotion-focused interventions."

In an earlier blog post "Orlinsky & Ronnestad's "How psychotherapists develop": three of the key recommendations" I highlighted too the finding that therapists seem to be more likely to thrive, maintain their enthusiasm, and help clients to better outcomes, when they stay theoretically broad & integrative in their approach.  And what fun to spend a series of days with a bunch of committed colleagues who I've never met before.  To top it all ... or maybe more accurately, to underpin everything ... I have great respect for the course trainer, Professor Robert Elliott.  I'm pretty much a grizzled old psychotherapy veteran, so it's rare for me to meet a colleague as grizzled whose work and style I feel very impressed by.  Let's hope deepening acquaintanceship across the next few months proves as stimulating and useful as I feel it will.  Time to eat some breakfast and get on the road!

For more on how this workshop went, see "Emotion-focused therapy workshop series (second post): client processes and therapist-client conflict".

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