Often times, when people think of the benefits of seeing a therapist they assume that the purpose is to work through emotion or, in psycho-babble terms, experience emotional catharsis. We hear the adages about not bottling up our feelings to avoid them from overwhelming us and it can feel good to blow off some steam. However, the research is more and more indicating that expressing your feelings alone can be counterproductive.
Let’s take a deeper look into the logic of this maxim:
- Let’s say we get some things off our chest by talking about what’s bothering us. At the same time, we are better prepared to cope if this happens again in the future. Often strong feelings are spurred on by life challenges. Simple pragmatism says that just talking about how you feel isn’t enough to resolve an ongoing challenge. By contrast, a plan of how to effectively address challenges tends to lower anxiety.
- What if we vent off our feeling unchallenged? We could be missing something that we don’t understand about the situation or fail to see our own role in the emotional experience. Further, without being checked, catharsis may serve to reinforce our negative, erroneous beliefs about a situation making it harder to calm down or change one’s mind in the future.
- When catharsis is performed through aggressive means it can have other adverse consequences. For example, when people dealing with anger are invited to express the anger through physically violent means (i.e. hitting a punching bag) it typically perpetuates further violent behavior in the future. The same could be said for verbal aggression used for “venting”.
I do not mean to insinuate that expressing your feelings is bad. However, I hope the examples above help to demonstrate the side effects and failures pure venting can incur. These emotional Catharsis myths help to illustrate some of the distinct benefits of talking to a therapist. For example, effective therapists offer evidence based skills, challenge and reframe what we think, and encourage adaptive means of coping. That being said, If you’re looking for therapy with lasting, high quality skills, reach out today.