June 4, 2008

How useful is 'letting off steam'?

In solution-focused coaching it certainly not a taboo to talk about problems. On the contrary, expressing how something bothers you can be a fruitful first step towards the formulation of a positive goal. However, as solution-focused practitioners we don't invite people to express their feelings. A question like "How did you feel when that happened" is one you're not likely to hear in a solution-focused conversation. Of course, when a client expresses himself or herself emotionally that can be okay. The solution-focused practitioner will then probably show understanding and pose a follow up question that will contribute to the solution-building process.

Often, we get questions about this: "Isn't it very important to ask people about their emotions so that they can express them?" This is an understandable question. After all, we often tend to think that expressing your emotions after a disappointing or shocking event is a wise thing to do. We may talk about 'letting off steam', a phrase which is based on the so-called kettle metaphor of emotions. When there is a lot of pressure on the kettle letting off steam is a simple and effective solution to lower the pressure.

But is the kettle metaphor actually a valid metaphor for human emotions? Does letting off steam actually work? Is it really wise to express your emotions after something bad has happened? New research which will soon appear in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, suggests that talking about thoughts or feelings after a traumatic experience may not help and even create psychological harm (Seery et al., 2008), Read on.

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