Many parents remember the days when they used a strategy of asking a fussy or unhappy child to put their feelings into words.
The technique was used when a child was experiencing a loss of emotional control. Often, the method worked miraculously, helping calm the child and allowing them to move on.
A new study by UCLA researchers investigates if verbalizing a current emotional experience, even when that experience is negative, might be an effective method for treating people with spider phobias.
Katharina Kircanski, Ph.D., and colleagues performed an exposure therapy study in which participants were split into different experimental groups and they were instructed to approach a spider over several consecutive days.
One group was told to put their feelings into words by describing their negative emotions about approaching the spider. Another group was asked to “reappraise” the situation by describing the spider using emotionally neutral words.
A third group was told to talk about an unrelated topic (things in their home) and a fourth group received no intervention.
Researchers discovered that participants who put their negative feelings into words were most effective at lowering their levels of physiological arousal. They were also slightly more willing to approach the spider.
The findings suggest that talking about your feelings — even if they’re negative — may help you to cope with a scary situation.