Many years ago, just as I was to start psychoanalytic training, I stumbled on a new type of psychotherapy called Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy or AEDP. I was struck by this method because it taught therapists how to effectively--from the very first session--access and process blocked emotions, which are at the root of many psychological symptoms and cause suffering. I had a good understanding of the brain and body from my prior career, so it did not take me long to recognize that working with emotions and their inherent physical sensations and impulses made sound psychological and biological sense. I felt compelled to master this cutting-edge therapy. I was simultaneously in formal psychoanalytic training and learning about more cognitive methods, but the more I studied and practiced AEDP, the more excited I got about this new way of working. During AEDP training, I learned about a triangle diagram that shows the relationship between our emotions, our anxiety, and our defenses--those creative ways our minds avoid uncomfortable feelings (with the unfortunate side effect of disconnecting us from our Selves and from others). My AEDP colleagues and I were teaching this triangle to our patients and using it ourselves. I was sharing it with friends and family so they too could benefit. The Change Triangle, the nickname I gave it when I began writing about emotions for the general public, is a map and a tool . It guides us from anxiety and our defenses - a place of disconnection - back to our true Self. And it works. When people first learn about the three corners of the Change Triangle and how we move around it (which we do many times throughout the day), there are instant benefits. Here are my top five:
Demystifies emotions making them less scary and overwhelming; and more predictable. For example, you experience a loss in your life and you can expect to feel sad.
Creates immediate distance and perspective from your distress. Just remembering to think about where you are on the Change Triangle stops a downward emotional spiral.
Increases awareness of how your mind and body works. Once you understand the Change Triangle diagram and can picture it in your mind’s eye, you understand the mental and physical aspects of your emotional experiences.
Helps you figure out if you are operating defensively or from an authentic state. With a little practice, you will start to know the difference between your defenses and your core feelings - and you may even look forward to feeling your feelings because they are real even if uncomfortable or painful. That has been my and other's experience.
Tells you what needs to be done to feel better. For example, if you recognize you are anxious, the Change Triangle guides you to name your core emotions. You ask yourself: am is sad? angry? excited? afraid? (Can be one or more feelings at the exact same time.) Or, if you recognize you are in a defended state, you are guided to consider the emotions you might be avoiding. You strive to approach your internal world with a stance of curiosity and compassion--trying hard not to judge yourself harshly.
The instant benefits of the Change Triangle come from a basic understanding of emotions and the Triangle's three corners. Working the Change Triangle to process emotions is, however, a practice. The biggest hurdle for most of us is shifting from our mind to our body and back again. It takes practice to get comfortable with the physical sensations that come with emotions. It takes practice to recognize emotions, label them, and stay with sensations despite some discomfort. The stories in my book, It's Not Always Depression, show you how other people process emotions in their bodies. And the exercises in the book get you started in your own simple practice. Our society is suffering from epidemic rates of anxiety, depression and trauma-related symptoms. Working directly with emotions as we experience them in our mind and body is the most effective way I know to actually heal what ails us. We can shift our "mind over matter" culture to one that values a balance between our thoughts and emotions. Our collective mental health and wellbeing can improve! The Change Triangle is the guide. I cannot imagine life without it. I am thrilled to pass this practice on to you and yours.