Focusing on feelings can manage holiday humbug

People who feel queasy at the mere mention of a holiday family get-together can benefit from the same type of emotion-focused therapy (EFT) that helps individuals and couples let go of negative feelings or forgive those who hurt them, says York psychology Professor Leslie Greenberg.

“We’ve all had those family Christmases that went off the rails and were spoiled by old hurts, squabbles and resentments, leaving us with emotional baggage,” explains Greenberg.

An internationally-renowned psychotherapist based in York’s Faculty of Health, Greenberg is one of the primary developers of EFT, a psychotherapy technique that promotes the resolution of unpleasant emotions by working with them rather than suppressing or avoiding them. In contrast, cognitive therapy focuses on changing thoughts and beliefs.

Greenberg offers some helpful hints, which have come out of his EFT research, to manage the holiday bah-humbug feeling, while reviving some of the warm and fuzzy family feeling.

“Define the problem by becoming more aware of your emotions,” explains Greenberg. “Name the emotion that you are feeling at the time: anger, frustration, sadness. There’s a calming effect that comes with just naming it. Too often we underestimate the power of this simple action.”

Secondly, try to make sense of the emotion by reflecting on how to manage it. EFT research shows that becoming an observer of your emotions puts you in the position of having the emotion rather than it having you.

“There’s no quick fix, but once you start to acknowledge and revisit hurt feelings, it frees the way to recalling times when the injurer was more loving and supportive,” notes Greenberg.

Left: Leslie Greenberg

Greenberg’s latest study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology, reveals parents are the main perpetrators of emotional injuries, providing insight into the uncomfortable feelings some people experience at the thought of going home for Christmas.

These helpful hints are part of a more in-depth recovery treatment described in Greenberg’s numerous publications, including his forthcoming book, Emotion-Focused Couples Therapy: The Dynamics of Emotion, Love, and Power. Co-authored by Rhonda Goldman, the book will be published by the American Psychological Association and available Feb. 28, 2008.

The authors draw upon a wide variety of case material to demonstrate how working with emotions can facilitate change in couples and, by extension, in all situations where people may be in emotional conflict with others.

A pioneer and ongoing leader in emotion-focused therapy, Greenberg has devoted the past 20 years to EFT research. He recently returned from Norway, Sweden and Hong Kong, where he conducted EFT workshops for therapists interested in learning his theory and technique.

More about Professor Leslie Greenberg

Greenberg’s professional publications include more than 100 peer-reviewed papers, 89 book chapters and 17 books. He has authored the major texts on emotion-focused approaches to treatment of individuals and couples, including Emotion-Focused Therapy for Depression (2006) and Emotion-Focused Therapy: Coaching Clients to Work Through Their Feelings (2002). He received the Distinguished Research Career award of the International Society for Psychotherapy Research in 2004, and recently was awarded the Canadian Psychological Association Professional Award for distinguished contribution to psychology as a profession.