The Roots of Emphasis on Emotions

From the “Are We Overemphasising Emotions?” post series.


Carl Rogers (1902-1987), an American humanist,  is the father of modern psychotherapy (after Freud and Jung). His emphasis on empathic listening as the central tool in therapy is still valid. After all, research shows that the experience, “My therapist understands exactly how I feel”, remains the best indicator of successful therapy.

In 1982 a book arrived on the scene, How to listen so kids will talk, and how to talk so kids will listen. It was a bestseller.

It gave the following advice: 1. Firstly, name the emotion that the child is experiencing in an accepting way (“I can see that you are upset/angry/sad/shocked….).

The best part about this advice is that it helps you to focus on the child before you focus on the behaviour. The same goes for you: When you are experiencing a strong emotion, take a moment to ask yourself, “What is it?”

You may be surprised. Once you hit the right emotion, you will feel it, AND you will experience some relief. Be careful of stereotypical labels:

“I am depressed.”

Yes, but what does that mean?”

“OK. I am sad.”

Sad about what?

This matters, because the correct naming of the emotion, helps with the correct action that has to follow if you want to feel any better. You need to ask yourself: OK, so what can I do about it? There is always something that you can do – talk about it, look for its origins, write about it, etc.

This book by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (still in print), was hugely popular and paved the way for a more cooperative form of parenting. Much of the advice remains useful. Like all new developments, it carried within it seeds of a new set of problems. (An over-emphasis on emotions, the idea of a forced choice has limited potential, and my pet-gripe: another brick on the wall of artificial parenting).

A short cartoon on youtube provides an effective summary of the book:

Read more HERE:


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