Sunday, November 19, 2006

Modes of Engagement and Emotion Schemes, Part 1

Entry for 19 November

In Learning Emotion-Focused Therapy, we gave the following definition of Modes of Engagement:
“It is important for experiential therapists to be able to recognize when to heighten clients’ awareness of their feelings and when to facilitate arousal and reflection. Attending to the content of what clients’ say, as well as the manner in which they say it, provides an indication of their stance towards their experience. This has been referred to variously as expressive stance (e.g., Rice, Watson & Greenberg, 1993) or mode of engagement (Greenberg et al., 1993), and can be defined as the focus of the client's attention and the activity in which they are engaged during the session; for example, whether they are actively engaged and exploring their experience, or being more distant and analytical.”
This definition is in fact a bit of a waffle on our part, because we are sliding over an important distinction between two aspects: on the one hand, the focus or topic of awareness/experience, that is, what the person is aware of; and, on the other hand, the person’s manner of engaging with their experience, that is, how they are aware of things.

On closer examination, these two bases for defining and describing clients’ work in therapy are not really the same and may at times be inconsistent with one another. We just never got around to really clarifying the logical basis of the distinctions we were making, largely because we have been focused on practice and training, and you sometimes have to simplify things when you do that, because getting too complicated can distract or confuse or overwhelm in such situations (as I have often found)

What came clear to me two weeks ago was that the two aspects could be separated in interesting and clarifying ways and that doing so would help reframe and organize the client modes of experiential engagement. The content aspect ties to the Emotion Scheme model that is the key theoretical element in Process-Experiential therapy. In order to understand this, I’ll have to lay out the Emotion Scheme mode, which states that people’s experiences are made up five different main aspects:
1. Perceptual-situational experience, including immediate perceptions and episodic memories of past situations, often felt to be the source of experience, that is, what it is about.
2. Bodily-expressive experience, including both internal body sensations and nonverbal expressions in which experience is grounded.
3. Cognitive-symbolic representations of experience, either verbal-auditory or iconic-visual, including things like self-talk, metaphor, and identity.
4. Motivational-behavioral carrying forward of experience, in the form of wishes, needs, desires, and actions.
5. Experienced emotion, including feelings, felt meanings, and what Gendlin calls the unclear felt sense (also: the still small voice).

According to Process-Experiential emotion theory, experienced emotions are the core of emotion schemes, integrating and coordinating them, although the person may not be self-reflectively aware of them. The emotion scheme is the whole pattern of interconnected experience, but the experience emotion element generally provides the most useful handle for seeing a set of related experiences fit together.

There is a diagram of this at, which I have added to the end of this entry. My entries for 7 September and 14 September of this year apply this concept to dreamwork.

In a later entry, I will continue laying out the new formulation, which tries to define Modes of Engagement as manner of processing experience that is derived from ways we naturally and characteristically take with different emotion scheme elements.

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