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Emotional intelligence is a relatively new area of study that focuses on people’s ability to feel, recognize, communicate, respond to, and understand their own emotions. An emotionally intelligent person, for example, recognizes when he or she feels angry, and knows that it is best to calm down before speaking. An emotionally intelligent person would also recognize that he or she is feeling stressed, and take measures to manage stress--such as asking for help, or taking a break from working.
Everyone has some degree of emotional intelligence; it is not an either/or quality. However, some people are naturally very emotionally intelligent, while others (probably most people) may find that at least some of the time, emotions may become overwhelming, cause them to act or speak in ways they later regret, interfere with communication and relationships, or otherwise cause difficulties. For some people, these difficulties can be persistent and cause major problems at work or at home. The good news is that research indicates emotional intelligence can be improved to some degree. A therapist can help to improve one’s ability to recognize, understand, and cope with emotions in productive ways.
There is no particular diagnosis associated with (a lack of) emotional intelligence, although a range of conditions, including depression, bipolar, anxiety, and personality diagnoses could be associated with a need to improve one's emotional intelligence. In fact, many mental health conditions can be more manageable if a person has a high level of emotional intelligence.
Therapy can be extremely helpful at enabling people to develop emotional intelligence. Some people struggling with emotional intelligence enter therapy for a different, unrelated reason, such as depression or social anxiety. A therapist can help them build their emotional intelligence and identify and/or explain the ways in which increased emotional intelligence might improve their situation. The relationship between the therapist and client can also be used as a teaching mechanism. The therapist might point out problematic ways of relating and help the person understand other contexts in which these ways of relating affect his or her life.
A therapist may also use emotional intelligence training to teach a person specific social skills such as reading body language, empathizing with the feelings of others, and providing appropriate feedback. Self-awareness can play a major role in emotional intelligence, and some therapists provide training designed to help a client become more aware of her own emotions in an attempt to help them relate better to others.
Keiran, 27, is referred by his employer for eight sessions with an Employee Assistance Program consultant, because he is not getting along with his coworkers. Keiran speaks impulsively, takes criticism poorly, argues with his peers and supervisors, and fails to complete tasks he begins. The therapist provides him with an emotional intelligence self-test, which reveals to Keiran that he is not in touch with his own emotions and does not know how to manage his feelings. Keiran is able to begin learning these skills in therapy, and gradually becomes more self-aware. After eight sessions, Keiran is referred for on-going treatment with another therapist to more deeply explore the origins of his emotional challenges.
Last updated: 12-15-2013
Emotional Intelligence Articles