For one reason or another, people who are in alcohol or other drug treatment can experience very strong emotions. Sometimes it’s a result of alcohol or other drug use. Sometimes it’s the reason for it.
Knowing how to work with clients who have difficulty regulating strong or distressing emotions is a critical skill for clinicians working with people who use alcohol and other drugs.
Healthy emotion regulation includes:
- ability to recognise an emotional response and to understand where it came from
- accepting that emotional responses are neither good nor bad, but just normal reactions to everyday situations – as Hamlet said: …for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so
- having access to effective strategies to reduce the intensity of emotions, including ability to recognise and reflect on the causes of the emotional response
- separating emotions from behaviour and understanding how to control impulsive behaviours in response to strong emotions – feeling angry with someone does not have to inevitably lead to physical confrontation, for example.
- looking after yourself to reduce emotional vulnerability – for example, healthy eating, sleep, exercise. We now have much more awareness of how lifestyle factors impact on emotional health and wellbeing
Most people learn these skills as a child, but some people, especially those who have had a traumatic upbringing have not acquired those skills along the way. But it is a skill we can all improve on.
Sometimes, we can inadvertently respond in unhelpful ways to people experiencing strong distressing emotions, escalating the problem. This can happen when practitioners feel ill-equipped to provide effective responses to help people in distress.
But these skills are easy to acquire for practitioners and will make the work of therapy a lot easier and more effective.
Head of Service Development