Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Counselling and the emotion of love - Part 1

The emotion of love is one that is presented reasonably often in the counselling setting. It is brought up reasonably frequently by clients and when it is what does the therapist do with it? How do they handle it or address it?
When a client presents emotions such as anger or sadness the therapist knows what to do. A great deal has been written on these and indeed some of it varies. For instance with anger in the CBT approach the therapist will encourage the client to think about their anger, isolating any thinking errors that may be involved and planning for any similar future situations that may arise and how the anger can be avoided. The cathartic approach may encourage the person to express their anger, along with vocalizing their angry thoughts. Once expressed the client is then encouraged to drop the anger.

Love story
Love story, we all want it.

Although the methods differ there are clear guidelines on what to do with anger when a client presents it. However what is a therapist meant to do (if anything) with the emotion of love when it is presented in the counselling room? It seems advantageous if the counsellor can have some kind of framework in his own mind by which to understand and deal with this emotion when presented by the client. The purpose of this post is to provide a beginning to this venture and this comes from my own experience as a counsellor and from various writings that inadvertently may address the emotion of love and its role in human psychology.
What is love?
Answering this question is an onerous task indeed and it is probably safe to say that it has never been fully and successfully done. Many people have written about love and indeed isolated aspects of it but it seems safe to say that it is impossible to define love, fully and completely in an Adult ego state fashion. However this does not mean that people do not know what love is. I would say that most people do.
Not uncommonly a therapist may ask the questions:
Are you in love with him/her?
You really did love him didn’t you?
Generally speaking most people can answer such questions with a degree of certainty. When asked such a question I have found that most can answer the question quite quickly and feel a degree of certainty in their answer whether that be yes or no. This seems at odds with the point previously made. If we cannot define love in an Adult ego state way how can we be so certain when we are in love or not. The solution to this quandary lies in the ego states.

The kiss
The Kiss. The modern day Rodin?

The person who can answer the question is one who has good contact with their Free Child ego state. When they answer the question it is the Free Child that speaks. However ask them to explain what love is and they can’t, as no one can. Thus we have the odd situation mentioned before where the Adult ego state cannot explain what love is but the Free Child knows if it has it or not.
The person who finds it difficult to answer the two questions posed above is one who has poor access to the Child ego state aspect of their personality, especially the Free Child. That is why when asked, the one’s who respond reasonably quickly are the ones who generally know. Those who take a bit of time tend to be those who go into their Adult ego state looking for the answer and of course the Adult cannot answer it. The Adult ego state does not know, instead it is the Free Child that knows.

Are you in love question

The highly intellectual person or the one who tends to think rather than feel will of course have problems with the question. Those who tend to shy away from or are scared of their feelings will have difficulty understanding their own feelings of love. It is the Child ego state feeling part of us that knows and experiences feelings of love not the Adult ego state.
Emotions and the Adult
What I am proposing is a situation that is different to the other emotions, at least on some occasions. Anger and sadness can be more understood by the Adult ego state. These emotions are often a reaction to an event. If one is criticized or if one is cut off in the traffic by another car and one has a feeling reaction the Adult can be more sure that it is anger. If one finds his dog has died then the Adult can be more sure that sadness is being felt as that is how people usually respond to such a situation.
This is less so with the feeling of love. There is not a discrete event that it can be seen as a response to. It tends to develop over time. Indeed it can develop over a number of years. This makes it harder for the Adult ego state to understand.
In relation to this there can a be a different time factor involved in love. When someone is insulted they may have an angry reaction. If afforded the opportunity to talk about it to the person directly or to someone else, allowed to show some of their angry feelings and verbalize them then eventually the anger subsides and goes away for ever. 

Weight lift 2
Anger is easier to understand than love

In counselling this would be seen as working through the anger. The feeling is time limited and finite. It comes and it goes. This is clear for the Adult ego state to understand. Of course the same does not happen with love. Its duration is often much longer and it is far less finite. One does not work through love feelings one simply learns to live with them. This less finite feature of love that makes it less discrete and less explicit than some of the other emotions and hence makes it more difficult for the Adult to understand. The point at hand is the feeling or experience of love is less clear and distinct than some other emotions like anger and sadness. This makes it harder for the Adult ego state to comprehend and it has to be left more to the Child ego state to comprehend it.
The first therapeutic task when love is presented in the counselling room is for the counsellor to make some kind of assessment as to how the client comprehends it. Those who have difficulty comprehending it may be because they are too intellectual on the topic. It is safer for them to be in their Adult ego state and they feel less safe in their Child ego state. If the client can answer the question
Are you in love with him/her?
reasonably easily and with some certainty, then the counselor knows that person has at least reasonable contact with their Free Child ego state and are comfortable trusting it in knowing the world especially in relation to the emotion of love.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Being cared about = Love

    The only way I can figure out if I am loved is considering how much someone cares about me. If I know the person doesn't care, than coming up with the "No" answer is easy. Coming up with a "Yes" answer is difficult. It's never a "Yes". It is always a "Maybe" or "I guess" or "I don't know". I have to ponder it, taking in to consideration how much the person cares and factoring in how many times I have been upset/hurt by them. "Yes" would mean that the person cares and will never hurt me. But everyone will at some point even if it is unintentional. I know I have the bar set to unrealistic. I am sure I am protecting myself with it.

    Same goes for me loving another person.

  3. Thanks for your comment Annalynn and some of it relates to part 2 of this theme. How love can result in ending up hurt and the idea of protecting oneself are very real and I take your point when you make them.

    I hope one day you can get to the point where you are again willing to lower the bar.