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What lies behind the so-called emotional “ventilation” felt after the visit to the psychotherapist


Gina Chiriac, psychotherapist, trainer and supervisor in integrative psychotherapy, president of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy and founder of the Neuropsy project – Research Center, Neurofeedback, QEEG, Brain Map, Heart Math and Integrative Psychotherapyexplains what lies behind the so-called emotional “ventilation” felt after the visit to the psychotherapist:

You have probably heard at least once that it is good to “ventilate” emotions and that the effect will be a beneficial emotional discharge of what we accumulate in a negative way mentally and emotionally. This concept is widespread, especially in the so-called “self-improvement” books, and has been embraced by some psychologists for half a century.

However, all the research in the field of psychology over the past 50 years has shown that emotional “ventilation” is nothing more than an urban myth without any scientific basis.

Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. to hit a pillow.

Modern psychology has shown that, in reality, over-expressing anger in this way only increases the individual’s level of aggression and reinforces aggressive behavior.

Psychologists have explained that an effective way to alleviate anger is to treat its cause and not to encourage its manifestation in raw form in psychotherapy.

If, for example, the attitude of a loved one makes us feel angry, “ventilating” this emotion by telling the therapist at each session and analyzing the feelings and thoughts we have every time we remember what infuriated us, not it gets rid of our anger, but gradually increases our level of reactivity, and this “ventilation” will not calm us down at all.

On the other hand, a conscious attitude of the psychotherapist who explains to the client the arguments supported by specific scientific theories regarding this way of continuously analyzing a trauma, to remember it, to perform behavioral topics that bring trauma to attention and especially its permanent analysis between sessions, hurts and deepens the trauma and has no way to have a regulatory effect on our state of recovery, it is preferable.

Working with trauma, anger, suffering, after analyzing and understanding its causes and effect on the patient’s functionality, involves focusing our therapy on healing techniques and not on “ventilating” and telling a few months or years about how affected we are.

So, instead of “ventilating” our thoughts and emotions in therapy or telling our friends until we reach variant 2514, we better try to understand each other better, to understand what our need is to always tell what bothers us and to be aware of what we are actually getting.

Neuroscience perspective on “ventilation”

What happens in the brain and in the body when we experience states of anger, dissatisfaction, suffering, helplessness, fear and tell them endlessly in psychotherapy sessions?

Our brain is divided into several interconnected anatomical structures, each with different functions. Two of these, relevant in our discussion, are: the reptilian brain and the neocortex.

The reptilian brain is that part of the brain in which “instinctive” behaviors are based: hunger, thirst, sexuality, but especially the instinct for survival.

The neocortex is the seat of the conscious mind and our creativity.

The rational brain is the one that allows us to learn, to remember experiences, to change our actions to do something better or to repeat a successful action.

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When we are stressed, the part of the brain that is activated is the reptilian brain.

As long as we are under stress, so in the reptilian brain, when we are angry, for example, we cannot be in the neocortex to examine the possibilities of action, to have a new perception of the stressful situation, to create new perspectives. to make a conscious choice, to regulate our behavior, to control our impulses, to understand what is going on outside.

We need to re-activate our neocortex, or frontal lobe, to function at full capacity, and only then will we be able to see alternatives and solutions, abandon the fear-reactive component, and be in the right mental state to see situations differently. give up impulsivity, stress, dissatisfaction.

When we are stressed and, to keep the previous example, angry, once the reptilian brain is activated, another phenomenon occurs: the sympathetic autonomic nervous system is activated which activates the fight or flight response and triggers the release of stress hormones, cortisol and adrenalin.

When this happens, the heart rate and blood pressure increase, and the digestion slows down or stops completely, as the blood is directed from the internal organs to the limbs, preparing us to fight or run.

The respiration rate increases to transport nutrients and oxygen to the cells faster. The muscles tense and the blood vessels in the extremities contract. Also in the sympathetic state, the pupils will dilate, so that we can see more clearly.

In order to reactivate the parasympathetic nervous system, associated with relaxation, regeneration and recovery, we need to turn our attention away from the story we are telling and believe we are doing well.

In other words, it is necessary to detach ourselves from negative thoughts, from the story that we keep “ventilating” through therapies, so that we no longer chemically activate stress hormones.

If we stop “ventilating” and repeating the same stories, we can change our perspective on the past, we can perceive that the danger has passed and then the parasympathetic nervous system restores the body to balance by releasing the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, helping us to regain calm after stress and anxiety.

The activated parasympathetic nervous system allows the activation of “good hormones” that can support the healing state and can bring the nervous system into balance.

Neurologists claim that every time you “ventilate” because the human brain does not differentiate between reality and imagination, you actually reconnect your attention to the initial trauma by activating in the brain the neural circuits that contain memories of the traumatic event, reinforcing your negative experience. .

Neuroscience – especially neuronal plasticity – explains why emotional “ventilation” strengthens negative emotions.

The same goes for the emotional “ventilation” of any unpleasant memory: the more we unload, talking about it, the more likely we are to project, accentuate, and perpetuate these thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in the future, without realizing it. .

These imbalances can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes and other conditions over time.

Therefore, by actually ventilating, there is a risk of intensifying the trauma.

When we suffer trauma, the brain shuts down all non-essential systems and activates the sympathetic nervous system and the limbic brain.

To help us survive the trauma, the brain releases stress hormones and activates the escape or fight response.

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The areas of the brain involved in the stress response include the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex.

When a patient repeats the trauma in the office over and over again, even just trying to put into words what happened can aggravate the victim’s trauma by reactivating it in the brain by activating the same neural pathways, which become more and more activated and easier to access when we turn our attention to them, causing the construction of a sub-personality specific to the victim’s state, for the ventilator, forming a system of limiting beliefs specific to this state.

When you remember a traumatic experience, the amygdala (emotional and survival center) comes into play, acting as if you were experiencing that trauma for the first time. As I said above, your prefrontal cortex also becomes suppressed, so you’re less able to control your fear – and you’re stuck in a purely reactive state.

After activating the memory of the trauma, the brain can remain in a state of hypervigilance, suppressing memory and impulse control and activating a constant state of strong emotional reactivity.

Trauma also leads to reduced activity in the hippocampus, one of its functions being to distinguish between past and present.

Our brains are more susceptible to change than many people think.

Even though overcoming trauma is a difficult process, in fact, neuroscience shows us that we can change the way our brain works: by adding new neural pathways, enhancing the functions of certain areas, and strengthening new connections.

It is the same mechanism that allows us to grow and change through learning.

Therefore, modern research shows that in psychotherapy sessions, it is recommended that after the psychotherapist and client allocate the necessary time specifically to work with stressful, unpleasant conditions and traumatic events and the client feels listened to and understood, after telling the psychotherapist in several sessions (but In no case during dozens of sessions, repeating the same story over and over again and analyzing the evolution of the effects and negative sensations produced by the unpleasant conditions) the therapy framework built to process together, the emphasis is on overcoming the traumatic event or negative states by “ventilation”.

Then, it is recommended that the healing process involves actually changing perceptions, reframing context, reconfiguring, and re-educating the brain to lessen the effects of trauma and to learn new, adaptive behaviors.

From a neuroscience perspective, the good news is that:

– We can strengthen our prefrontal cortex, thus regaining our rationality and control.

– We can strengthen our hippocampus and help our memory work.

– And we can adjust our tonsil hyperactivity, which will help us regain our inner peace.

It is important for patients in the office to understand that it is better to learn the practice of detachment in the week between therapies than to “ventilate” to observe their symptoms from the observer’s position, without identifying with them and to educate their attention, training their memory with things. positive and well-being, to create new, positive perceptions, which through learning and repetition will thus become a new reality. Much more suitable for a new beginning, for a new life.

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