Emotional processing plays a significant role in therapies dealing with addiction and phobias. At first, it may seem like it’s part of behavioral therapy, but if you take an in-depth look at it, you’ll notice that it has more to do with cognitive revolution that looks at the human mind like a computer.
As our perceptions are strongly influenced by our beliefs which may not be even valid, identifying negative thinking patterns that have developed and been reinforced over the years will be important to overcome phobias or addictions.
Although the approach will be different when it comes to addiction and phobias, the root causes will be in memories and how we perceive them.
As we change our perceptions of the past, it will become easier to overcome behaviors that are unproductive and inhibit healing.
Emotional Processing Theory
Emotional processing theory states that fear is activated through associative networks. This includes information about a particular phobia and the avoidance response to the fear stimulus.
Fear becomes an issue when it’s an obstacle to a normal way of functioning. Further, if it continues to exist when there isn’t any clear indication of danger, this can be the result of pathological or maladaptive structures (dissociation, avoidance, escape behavior).
As a result of this fear, people generally don’t stick around for long enough for any meaningful, new learning to occur. Emotional processing theory suggests that gradual exposure can change the relationship between these networks and the fear stimulus.
So to enable meaningful change, emotional processing can be utilized when the network is activated to code new information that’s incompatible with the network. This is done by forming new habits while staying in the fear stimulus until there’s a reduction in the level of anxiety.
Structures Of Fear
Cognitive networks of maladaptive thinking are sometimes referred to as structures of fear. For example, if you’re suffering from anxiety, your maladaptive beliefs might tell you that’ll experience unmanageable levels of distress or that you’ll be placed in an extremely dangerous situation.
You might have heard people make statements like “if I go there, I will die for sure” or “I might lose control or pass out.” All of this is maladaptive thinking that can also be accompanied by shortness of breath.
The main problem here is that people with such disorders always engage in avoidance behaviors whenever they feel anxious. As a result, this pattern can go on to restrict your daily life as you continue to practice avoidance.
Emotional Processing Can Disconfirm Structures of Fear
The solution is to stay within the source of anxiety long enough for it to diminish on its own. By habituating the fear stimulus, you can learn that what you’re afraid of doesn’t occur or is less likely to occur.
Repeated exposure will weaken the associative networks and replace maladaptive fear with new adaptive or competing associations.
Emotional processing has had a positive impact on PTSD treatment through prolonged exposure. So it can be incorporated into any therapy that’s rooted in fear.
If you have any questions about emotional processing or how it can be utilized to help you, feel free to contact us.