The construction of emotional experience: State-related emotional awareness and its application to psychotherapy research and practice

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1 Scopus citations

Abstract

The cognitive–developmental theory of ‘levels of emotional awareness’ (LEA) addresses an individual's capacity to experience and express emotion, a capacity highly relevant to psychotherapy. Previous papers on LEA and psychotherapy addressed the aspect of LEA theory pertaining to the ‘trait’ (i.e. enduring) aspects of an individual's emotional functioning over time. LEA theory also applies to the construction of emotional experience at any given moment, in which levels emerge or disappear in a process of microgenetic construction as a function of arousal and other variables. This state-related perspective is supported by recent research showing that people vary in their LEA from moment to moment. Momentary changes in LEA correspond to the variations in lived experience that occur in relationships, including the therapy relationship, and provide the context for corrective emotional experiences that promote change. In this paper, the construction of emotional experience at different levels of organisation is discussed separately in relation to clients and therapists. Key phenomena relevant to psychotherapy include the transition from bodily sensations to specific differentiated emotional feelings, the ability to be aware of multiple feelings that may be contradictory or counter-intuitive, and the appreciation of how complex combinations of feelings may differ in self and other. This perspective adds to the literature on how the integration of emotion and cognition contributes to change in psychotherapy. The clinical and research implications of this perspective are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-487
Number of pages9
JournalCounselling and Psychotherapy Research
Volume20
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

Keywords

  • emotional awareness
  • individual differences
  • psychotherapy
  • state
  • trait

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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