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Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a relatively new area of study that focuses on the ability to feel, recognize, communicate, respond to, and understand emotions.

Understanding Emotional Intelligence

The concept of emotional intelligence was popularized by Daniel Goleman with his 1995 publication Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. The idea was discussed previously, however, by multiple others, beginning with Howard Gardner who, in 1983, presented the idea of multiple intelligences.


Emotional intelligence describes one's ability to use and understand emotions (both one's own emotions and those of others) in order to better improve mental and physical health as well as interpersonal skills. An emotionally intelligent person will generally have the ability to, for example, recognize anger as it begins to develop and, as a result of this awareness, decide that it is best to calm down before speaking. This ability also applies to the emotions of others: An emotionally intelligent person may also recognize when a coworker is feeling stressed, for example, and take measures to assist that person, perhaps by offering help with a demanding task list or by urging him or her to take a break.

Influence of Emotional Intelligence in Everyday Life

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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.

Psychological Issues Associated with Emotional Intelligence Issues

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 for 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.

Case Example

Lack of emotional intelligence in the workplace: 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.



  1. Ferraro, J. (2010, September 8). Developing emotional intelligence. Psychotherapist NYC. Retrieved from http://psychotherapist-nyc.blogspot.com/2010/09/developing-emotional-intelligence.html


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Last updated: 05-27-2015


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