Protection from Dangerous Emotions: Interruption of Emotional Experience in Psychotherapy
Weston, Janice Lynn
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Objective: To identify the central elements in depressed clients process of self-interruption of emotion (SIE) in an experiential therapy session. Research Design: A two-study, multi-method research design was used to examine both the overt performance and subjective experience of SIE. Methods: The first study involved a task analysis (Greenberg, 2007) of the performance of SIE by 10 clients in an experiential therapy session. A marker of SIE was defined. Parameters were defined that demarcate an SIE event in a therapy session where a client interrupted their experience of emotion. Fourteen SIE events were subjected to a task analysis. From this analysis, a performance model of client SIE was conceptualized. The second study involved a quasi grounded theory analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) of Interpersonal Process Recall (IPR) interviews with depressed therapy clients about the in-session experience of emotion when self-interruption occurred. Thirteen participants IPR accounts, obtained while they watched a videotaped segment of a therapy session containing a marker of self-interruption of emotion, were subjected to a grounded analysis. A hierarchical categorical model of the subjective experience of SIE was conceptualized, that was crowned by a core category Protection from Dangerous Emotions. Results: Models of performance and subjective experience of SIE were conceptualized, compared, and integrated. A final integrative process model of SIE was proposed. In this model, it was explained that SIE occurred when the clients experience of an emotionally vulnerable sense of self precipitated protective secondary reactive emotions and/or behaviours of emotional control and avoidance. Five features of emotional vulnerability were conceptualized. Two patterns of self-interruption of emotion were identified. In the first dominant pattern, clients moved through four distinct phases that culminated in limited awareness of emotional experience. The second, minor pattern did not include awareness of reactive secondary emotion. Conclusions: The process of self-interruption of emotion can be identified by specific markers in a therapy session. Key tasks for therapists when working with clients who interrupt emotion in session are facilitating the regulation of the clients experience of emotional vulnerability, as defined here, and reactive secondary emotions. Suggestions for further research on SIE are offered.