By Guest Contributor Matthew Jones, MA, LCPC, CADC
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is widely recognized as being a vital component to professional success. Many ambitious individuals around the world pay millions of dollars to attend conferences that promise to help them increase their EQ. Unfortunately, what most people fail to realize is that that traditional therapy offers unparalleled opportunities to develop and refine emotional intelligence.
The term emotional intelligence first appeared in a 1964 paper by Michael Beldoch, and gained popularity in the mid 1990s when Daniel Goleman wrote about the value of emotional intelligence for leaders. Goleman focused on five main components of EQ: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, empathy, and motivation.
Self-awareness is a complex construct, but basically involves the ability to know and understand yourself. This self-understanding comes from being attuned to your emotions, strengths, weaknesses, values and goals, and understanding how those personal factors impact others. Self-regulation involves an ability to transform your frustrations and other difficult emotions into healthy outlets so that you can better adapt to changing circumstances. Social skill means that you can navigate the complexities of relationships to move towards common goals. Empathy includes considering and experiencing other people’s feelings, and taking them into account when making decisions. Finally, motivation means that you are driven to achieve something.
Psychotherapy not only addresses each component in Goleman’s mixed EQ model, it dramatically improves each. The list below demonstrates five ways that therapy improves the invaluable skill of emotional intelligence.
1. Talking through emotional issues aloud with a therapist provides immediate feedback on your thoughts, and clarifies your strengths and weaknesses.
People often underestimate the power of sharing your intimate thoughts and feelings with another person. Therapy provides an impactful emotional experience that illuminates the way you experience and perceive yourself, others, and the world.
When you work through challenges in therapy, you have another person that can give you feedback. This relationship highlights what you do well and points out areas of continued growth.
2. Therapists help teach self-regulation strategies that improve your emotional control.
Therapy improves your self-regulation in many ways. On the surface, therapists can show you strategies like breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation techniques to improve your ability to manage difficult feelings.
They can also help you explore activities that you find useful in dealing with uncomfortable emotions. And, on an unconscious level, working with someone that is providing you with their full emotional energy transforms the way you self-regulate. In many ways, therapy provides an incredibly enriching opportunity to find more adaptive coping methods.
3. The therapeutic relationship illuminates how to resolve conflicts and emotional discomfort, allowing you to make more meaningful relationships.
Like all other relationships, the therapeutic relationship takes work to maintain and improve. Disagreements or miscommunications inevitably arise during psychotherapy, and each becomes an excellent opportunity to improve your conflict resolution strategies.
Clients learn how to ask for their needs to be met, and may discover the courage they need to describe their disappointment when the therapist is unable to do so. This learning process provides the strength and energy that’s needed to improve one’s relationships outside of the office, and as such, improves emotional intelligence.
4. Increasing awareness of your own emotional experience through therapy improves your ability to empathize with others.
The more that you increase your self-awareness throughout the duration of therapy, you learn to appreciate the complexity of other people too. Releasing your resentment of others creates healing. You discover that you have the capacity to forgive other people despite their shortcomings, and in doing so, deepen your ability to connect with all people no matter how different they appear.
5. Working through your emotional discomfort alleviates symptoms, which releases energy that you can then use as motivation to achieve your goals.
As your therapeutic work deepens, many of the things that brought you in to therapy get better. More and more of the emotional energy that was involved in your challenges or was being occupied worrying about your difficulties is freed from those self-defeating cycles.
The transformation of your suffering into something more manageable increases your access to vitality. You begin to feel more connected to happiness and passion. In doing so, the spark that you require to achieve goals is re-ignited, and you have all the fuel you need to live a fulfilling, successful life.
If you want to increase your emotional intelligence, then stop reading self-help books that won’t ultimately get you what you want and commit yourself to ongoing therapy. The results are real, significant, and they work directly on each of the five components of emotional intelligence.
Matthew Jones is a life coach, licensed therapist, addiction specialist, and is earning his doctorate in clinical psychology. With writings published in Time Magazine, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, and more, Matt is passionate about using his expertise to help individuals reach their full potential. You can find more of his writing by reading his column in Inc. Magazine and by visiting his website.