The Verbal Communication of Emotions: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

By Susan R. Fussell | Go to book overview

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Rewards and Risks of
Exploring Negative Emotion:
An Assimilation Model Account

Lara Honos-Webba

Linda M. Endresb

Ayesha Shaikhc

Elizabeth A. Harrickd

James A. Lanib

Lynne M. Knobloch-Feddersc

Michael Surkoe

William B. Stilesb

aSanta Clara University, bMiami University
cNorthwestern University, dEarlham College,
eMount Sinai Adolescent Health Center

"I am angry at my father. It took me five years of therapy to say that. "

—Richard Gere's character in the movie Pretty Woman
(Milchan & Marshall, 1990)

Psychotherapy clients often believe that the verbal expression of negative emotion will disrupt their daily lives. They are afraid that if they begin to express painful feelings, the pain will never stop. Many also express the concern that talking about traumatic experiences would make the events and the attendant feelings "real." They insist that they have sought therapy in order to feel better, not worse. However, despite this reluctance, therapists frequently encourage clients to verbally express their most painful emotions. Such expression is central to many theories of psychotherapy including psychodynamic (Strupp & Binder, 1984), Gestalt (Perls, 1969), and more recent experiential psychotherapies (e.g., Greenberg, Rice, & Elliott, 1993). In this chapter we present three studies that used the Assimilation Model (Stiles, Elliott, Llewelyn, Firth-Cozens, Margison, Shapiro, & Hardy, 1990) to explore the role of emotional expression in the therapeutic process. We found that under certain circumstances verbal expression of negative emotion seemed to facilitate healing, as therapists insist, but, in other situations, clients may be justified in their fear of putting their painful experiences into words.

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