Feelings are important in growing consciousness – Existential and Mindfulness Based Emotional Reflection Therapy


Accepting your emotional reality and holding an awareness of those feelings helps us to be conscious of how we are currently being influenced … understanding this influence opens up the possibility to use reflection to guide your actions towards your best interests and towards the most ideal interaction patterns.

There is a huge amount of research coming out about the benefits in fostering relationships with emotional availability, vulnerability and authenticity. Such relationships promote healthy attachments which assist such things as: felt security/self-confidence, hope, stress reduction, physical health, a sense of meaning or purpose, and relational satisfaction. EFT (Emotionally focused Family therapy) is a couple’s intervention based on creating more secure attachments and AFFT (Attachment Focused Family Therapy) is the intervention to do the same within the whole family system.

I am suggesting an additional theory – emotion focused therapies are also increasing the ability for people to reflect = the ability to hold a stimulus (observation, sensation, thought or emotion) in your consciousness without automatically engaging in a reaction (behavior, thought, or emotion).

I therefore commonly use emotions for attachment objectives, and I also love using emotions as a means of increasing consciousness and one’s reflective ability (and therefor reducing automaticity).

Ask yourself this question – “Do you believe that your mood affects the way that you interact with people?”

And, “do you believe that your different moods influence the different ways in which you interact with people?”

Are there moods which are more associated with defensiveness and moods which are more accommodating for openness?

Most people will surely say of course… If I am pissed I am more likely to be defensive…

Though people generally understand this concept intellectually is relatively rare for a person to reflect on their mood and how their mood might affect their interaction with another person.

It is even more difficult for a person to be able to hold an open-minded consciousness about the thoughts or beliefs that were projected onto a stimulus which influenced the person’s current emotional state.

When I help to bring people into an awareness of their emotional state while in therapy I am often helping the person to have a deeper awareness of a specific or deconstructed emotion… While holding a safe and therapeutic space I will collaborate with the client in creating room for the client to reflect with curious acceptance about the various ways in which a specific emotion influences them… and perhaps where that emotion is coming from (what beliefs do you have about the stimulus and how are those beliefs encouraging you to feel?)…

Enactment set up to reproduce a baseline interaction pattern:

I often start with an Enactment in which I will instruct the clients to have a conversation in front of me that has historically not been very effective (misunderstandings, lack of empathy and support, and inability to reach a solution or to move forward).

Sex, Money, Parenting, rules, chores, alcohol etc. are common topics

I tell the clients that I will be stopping them … and for me to best help them they really need to stop when I assess that the emotional spiral has started.

I generally stop people very soon into the process – I have no interest in having people fall into a stress cycle where they are operating from their amygdala.

Humor, paradoxes, or/and gratitude are used to comfortably pull the clients into a place of reflection.

With a smile I enthusiastically say something like, “Great this is exactly what I wanted … is this how it is when you all at home?”

The paradox is that people expect a person to match their mood or to show nervous concern in the face of an argument. Compassionate humor with hope and encouragement often confuses the client and naturally brings them into a place of reflection.

The therapist’s emotional state encourages the client to question if they need to be reacting to the situation the way that they are… this curios questioning necessitates reflection.

It is always important for the therapist to walk the talk… During therapy I always engage in meditative breath and reflection (mindfulness) = breathing deeply into my abdomen while allowing my consciousness to reflect on my current present state at various moments throughout the session (I then offer compassionate acceptance to whatever emotion I may be holding)… please note that the academic side of our field often talks about ‘neutrality’… the method to achieve this state often sounds like emotional avoidance or resistance – this actually reduces a therapists presence or consciousness = I would be very careful with the topic of neutrality, especially when compassionate acceptance is not part of the conversation. (Neutrality requires that one has no ego… how many of us fit into that category? – I don’t.)

Within my own reflective state I attune more deeply to a client and will ask in different ways the following type of questions. (note: I am often intentionally ambiguous or different in asking questions – I have noticed that because therapists are displayed a certain way by Hollywood, clients will often disengage or become defensive if you ask ‘cliché’’ Hollywood-therapist’ type questions such as “how are you feeling.”

I start with – “please face your partner and tell them the answer to these questions.” I use non-verbal directions such as awkwardly looking away if the partners begin to focus on me instead of each other. At times I will gently smile and point to the partner.

Then I turn to the listener and state, “your job is to be as present as possible… I want you to put most of your attention on what your partner is experiencing in the moment… pay attention to your partners non-verbals and emotional language – the plot is not particularly important right now. If defensiveness arises – notice it and know that right now we are just trying to understand your partner’s subjective experience.” (Of course I use the right language for the given client and sometimes I am more specific with what not to do – such as” don’t correct the plot line or interrupt.”

What is going on for you right now?

What are you experiencing in your body?

What is the emotional impact that this interaction is having on you in this therapy office?… exactly now in this moment?

What beliefs do you notice coming up as you engage with this topic?

Do you know what kind of emotions you feel related to those beliefs?

I then turn to the listener and ask

“What did you come to understand … what do you notice your partner experiencing in this therapy office as he/she spoke to you?”

Again, I ask the person to speak to their partner and not to me. (If they ask why, either verbally or non-verbally, I will let them know that we are creating a new habit and you have do something (even if it feels contrived) to begin a new habit… then time and practice will be necessary.

I will gently redirect if the response is defensive or not related to their partners experience.

I then will have the listener switch roles with the speaker and go through the process again.

This concludes this intervention – I will often go into a solution oriented intervention surrounding articulating the partners’ needs and getting those needs met after the above intervention.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Anger and Arguments – Are you defending the topic or your self?


Quick summary: as part of increasing your self-awareness I suggest that you take a look at the topics that really get you ‘heated’ with the goal of coming to an understanding of how you personally identify with that topic. In this self-exploration you might just find that your emotion has very little to do with the topic and is perhaps more related to: an unresolved occurrence from you past, or an attempt to create a stable sense of who you really are (your identity), or both. 

Note: therapists see therapists – In becoming a therapist it is very important that you become aware and come to a place of acceptance surrounding your identity and your past – this ensures that you can be present for your clients no matters what topics are brought up; the experience also gives the therapist irreplaceable insight into the process of therapy itself. 

This is the exercise:

1.) Name or list some topics that elicit a strong emotional reaction in you. Pick topics that do not directly pertain to you (ex. global warming, education, war, taxes etc… and not people cutting me off, being spit on, having my stuff stolen).

2.) Look for the underlying themes in the topics that you chose. Example, the themes behind ‘global warming’ could be selfishness, control, lying, deception, safety fear, injustice etc.

3.) Ask yourself – what does that theme have do with my past…in what way have I experienced that theme in my own life? Example, if the theme is ‘control’… when were you affected by control or a lack of control or someone being over controlling in your own life?

4.) Ask yourself – what does that theme have to do with who I am or what does it have to do with my identity (either the identity that you hold for yourself or the identity that society has placed on you)? Example, if the theme is selfishness do you think that you are selfish or has someone tried to label you as being selfish?

5.) What are the methods that you use to suppress your true feelings about that theme? Ex. you only talk about the theme in relation to other people and not in relation to yourself… you use rationalization to avoid your emotional reaction etc.

6.) Acknowledge this awareness and offer yourself the space to answer the final question. What do you need in order to come to a place of acceptance surrounding that theme?

  • Let yourself experience the emotional significance that that theme has on you.
  • If you ‘hold in’ the emotions you might put that emotion (project) onto other people or subjects.


Let me offer a personal example – I can have a tendency to get a bit over-involved with my political opinions; historically I would engage people using a significant base of information, a dedication to ‘rational’ debate, and emotional restraint.

Let me clarify, it is not that I am without opinions… I am simply trying to increase my awareness about what my beliefs have to do with me… to increase my understanding of my emotional reactions to subjects.

What were the political opinions that I was debating? … There were always underlying themes to all of the topics that I engaged.


I am not proposing that I was in no way defending the views which I engaged… rather, I am suggesting that I was defending my past and my sense of self as well.


The themes for my political interactions were as follows:


            – I wanted the alternative view to have a voice.

            – I wanted fair, predicable, and equal treatment of all beings.

            – I wanted people to understand the struggles of the more marginalized.


My methods of interaction were as follows:

            -I practiced emotional restraint (I talked in a ‘matter of fact’ way which suggested that I was not emotionally biased – ironic)

            -I was using ration and deductive reasoning (essentially the use of the scientific methodology to arrive at ‘objectivity’.)

            -I ignored the connection between the topics I was arguing for and my personal life.


What was I really defending? – My own self –exploration (done with the help of a therapist 4 years ago)

            Alternative views – I had difficulties in my sophomore and junior year of high school; I believed that my identity was viewed as unacceptable at the school which I attended.

  • I therefore was using politics as a way of defending the right for my teenage identity to exist by projecting my feelings on alternative political opinions.


            Fair, predictable, and equal treatment – this topic is really deep and has to do with many subjects including.

  • My perception as a teenager that I received unjust punishment for behaviors that I viewed as less socially disruptive than other peoples behaviors who did not face consequences (I was alternative and reckless, but I was never violent, oppressive, self righteous or abusive)
  • My reaction to attachment issues related to my adoption… and a reaction to the inherent double bind of an unwanted pregnancy.
  • My reaction to the chaos that influences the world and my fear of the unpredictable… such as death (almost every one has this).


Defending the marginalized – At the time when I was a bit overly political I worked for the community helping people with developmental disabilities to learn social and vocational skills (I did this for six years).

  • I would use politics as a way of defending my vocational meaning and worth. – “if social assistance was right then I was right.”


“By increasing my self-awareness around certain themes which are important to me I am better able to ‘care’ about those themes without reacting ‘unconsciously’ to them.” – Will





William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Externalization – you are with the problem… you are separate from the problem


Quick summary – externalization is a technique from Narrative therapy which uses language to separate a person from their problem so that the person is better able to manage that problem. The basic idea is that it is easier to fix a concern if the concern is not rigidly attached to the person’s identity or personality (you are not stubborn… you use stubborn behavior). In this way the therapist would help a person to see that they are not a depressed person… but rather they are a person living with depression. This process offers perceptual freedom to a person… If they no longer view themselves as innately depressed then they can choose what to do with the depression which is with them (as it never was truly part of them). Narrative theory tends to view diagnosis as counter productive as a diagnosis encourages a person to over identify with the label… this takes away the person’s freedom and hope.

Let me start with some quick examples: the first quote will use over-identification language and the second quote will use externalization. Which wording seems more solvable?

I am a cancer patient – I am living with cancer

I am an anxious person – I am person who carries anxiety

I’m fat – I hold extra weight

I’m a bad parent – I am a person with underdeveloped parenting techniques

Are these just euphemisms? (Nicer ways of saying the same thing)

Yes and No

–         The secondary benefits of this technique are based on positive psychology principles.

  • Narrative therapists believe that you create your own reality through the stories that you tell yourself… and with the stories that we agree upon collectively.
  • Yes – if you tell yourself more positive stories then you will live within the reality of those more positive storylines. This is one of the more controversial aspects of positive psychology, narrative therapy and other constructionist and postmodern views.


–         No… not just

  • The main benefit of this technique is that it allows a person to see himself or herself as separate from the problem which then makes it easier for that person to look at the problem from a different perspective.
  • The technique also encourages people to stop using unhelpful generalization so that they can see when the problem has less or no impact on their life.
    • Example: if you are a depressed person then you have made the generalization that you are always depressed. If you are a person with depression than it is easier to perceive the times when depression was not ‘with’ you.


Externalization is also perhaps a more helpful and compassionate way to communicate with a person concerning a problem that they hold.

            * For example – would your rather be told that you are a messy person or that you are a person with some messy habits? Would you want someone to say that you are a mean person or would you rather he or she said that you are a person that uses less sensitive language?

Over-identification causes suffering – certain Buddhist beliefs suggest that our over attachment to labels, material items, identities etc are the root of our suffering.


Hope – hope is a statistically significant variable in relation to therapeutic and medical outcomes – hope has a positive correlation with recovery. The more you believe that you will heal = the more likely you are to heal.

  • It is easier to foster hope in a person when that person believes that they are separate from their problem… If a person believes that they are the problem then they believe they have to change themselves – that process is far more difficult than changing an externalized problem.


Externalization trick – Something that you can practice in your life.


 * Try adding a verb and/or a preposition before your descriptors.


I am depressed – I am living with depression

I am learning disabled – I am a person who has a learning disability

I am unhappy – I am a person who notices unhappiness in my life

My cousin in developmentally disabled – my cousin has a developmental disability

“Word choice effects your perception and your perception affects your emotions.”

“I am with the snow balls … the snow balls are separate from me.” – Lucy the dog

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Argumentative? – substitute the word “but” for “and”



Quick Summary – Are you Argumentative? Always use the conjunction “and” instead of the conjunction “but” to dramatically reduce defensiveness, to encourage harmonious conversation, and to increase your dialectic ability (which is basically open-mindedness).

I had a wonderful teacher in graduate school who would correct her students any time that they used the conjunction “but” in class. To some this was extremely annoying… to others (like myself) I found that this trick reduced my argumentative interactions to almost zero. There is almost no example that I can think of in which it would not be appropriate for you to switch the conjunctions. And the more you increase your dialectic ability (your ability to see that every issue has two sides – the old ‘there is two sides to every coin’ expression) the more evident it is that the word “but” creates a false dichotomy (black and white thinking – either/or thinking instead of both/and thinking) that is at the source of most arguments.

Example: a couple wakes up and has a day of errands… both are a bit cranky… it is 9:00 am in the morning. The wife says to the husband, “Honey I need to get to the bank before 12:00.” The husband responds, “But I need to get gas because the car is empty.”

An argument then begins… why? The word “but” made the interaction imply as if the statements were add odds with each other… to specify the word led them to believe that either the husband needed to get gas or the wife had to get to the bank by 12:00. The truth is that both statements were true and the only problem (the source of the entire argument) was the wording.

Substituting “but” for “and” example. The wife says to the husband, “Honey I need to get to the bank before 12:00.” The husband responds, “And I need to get gas because the car is empty.” the wife then respond, “ok.”

Feel how you respond to the examples below if you are not yet sold. For this exercise I want you to say the statements out loud or in your head and monitor how your body reacts.

These examples are all based on common dialogs.

“Honey I would love to go to the beach” response “But I am really hungry… I need to stop at a restaurant”

“Honey I would love to go to the beach” response “and I am really hungry… I need to stop at a restaurant”

“Let’s go take a swim” response “but I don’t want to get my watch wet”

“Let’s go take a swim” response “and I don’t want to get my watch wet”

“I would like to watch a movie sometime today” response “but I need to get some exercise”

“I would like to watch a movie sometime today” response “and I need to get some exercise”

And perhaps the most famous-

“I like the Democratic candidate for his views on the environment” response “but I think that the Republicans will help business owners.”

“I like the Democratic candidate for his views on the environment” response “and I think that the Republicans will help business owners.”

How does the “and” feel to you… can you see how the “but” makes statements seem mutually exclusive when they are not? Try it… I bet it will improve your relationships by reducing arguments.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.