Denying Cognition

There appears to be a colloquial trend in modern therapeutic language that creates a false dichotomy between the intellectual and emotional components involved in psychotherapy. For the sake of poetic and metaphorical imagery, it is often emphasized that a client must “feel with the heart” rather than “staying in the head” as a means of eliciting cathartic breakthroughs and achieving insights into behavioral patterns. Certainly one cannot dispute the way the body responds to anxiety, fear, and the multifarious symptoms of internalized trauma. The core of experiential therapy relies heavily on re-experiencing emotionally provocative stimuli and assimilating it as a means of adaptive processing. This is not to be discounted. However, it is my contention that critical thinking should be valued as much as critical feeling (making your feelings count) during therapeutic encounters. After all, without sufficient contemplation and conceptual visualization, Cognitive Behavior Therapy or Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy would simply become Behavior Therapy. Processing emotional content necessarily involves discursive reasoning skills, or at least the capacity to be guided towards congruent and auspicious modes of perception.

I want to be clear about the difference between the words rational and rationalization. The former, for purposes of client-centered interactions, embodies a process or method of gathering, considering, and analyzing contextual information, while the latter refers to a conscious manipulation of information in an attempt to justify maladaptive behavior. Furthermore, I am not writing to argue that thinking should necessarily precede emotion. What I am proposing is that critical thinking should not be dismissed or pathologized as a form of resistance when it is properly applied to fostering or eliciting emotional release. Catharsis depends on a synergistic cooperation involving the brain’s pre-frontal cortex and limbic system. Likewise, when one hears such phrases as “language of the heart,” it is important to remember that the heuristics of emotional dilemmas are not actually being worked out in a metabolic muscle the size of a fist. Nonetheless, the symbolic heart can be a useful metaphor to signify honesty when communicating visceral experiences. In the final analysis, don’t let your feelings do all of your thinking and don’t let your thinking inhibit all of your feelings.