Emotional efficacy and ACT

What do we mean by emotional efficacy?

Emotional efficacy refers to an individual’s capacity to effectively harness their emotions and engage in values-based action, especially in moments of stress, challenge and pain. When people have high levels of emotional efficacy they can flexibly adapt their responses to meet the demands of different situations.

There are a myriad of benefits to having high levels of emotional efficacy including an increase in emotional intelligence, psychological flexibility and resilience which translate into concrete skills including:

  • Self- awareness: being able to identify and accurately label one’s own emotions and values.
  • Empathy: being able to recognise and attune to the emotional states of others.
  • Distress tolerance: being able to accept unwanted experiences without reacting
  • Emotion regulation: being able to modulate emotional reactions and/or the experience of them.
  • Goal-directed behaviour: being able to stay focused and on task with what matters in moments of choice
  • Interpersonal communication: being able to express emotions in a socially appropriate and constructive way.
  • Adaptability: being able to identify when priorities shift or change and pivot accordingly
  • Perspective-taking: being able to hold thoughts lightly and consider other points of view
  • Resilience: being able to recover in the face of unexpected changes, obstacles or unwanted experiences
  • Wellbeing: being able to choose values and actions that lead to meaningful engagement

As a result, individuals with high emotional efficacy are generally better able to cope with uncertainty, stress, and distress and to make intentional choices, build stronger relationships, and achieve professional success.

What does low emotional efficacy look like?

Signs of low emotional efficacy often include:

  • Lack of emotional awareness and fluency: difficulty identifying and labelling one’s own emotions and a lack of understanding about the messages behind emotion triggers
  • Emotional bias: unhelpful beliefs and attitudes about their emotions that can lead to feelings of helplessness and shame
  • Rigid emotional expression: rigid and/or limited range of emotional responses with difficulty adjusting emotional reactions based on desired outcomes
  • Emotional reactivity: inability to effectively tolerate or modulate emotional reactions, experiencing intense and prolonged negative emotions or engaging in impulsive or maladaptive behaviours in response to emotions
  • Interpersonal challenges: difficulty communicating emotions in a socially appropriate manner and tend to either suppress or overly express emotions
  • Empathy deficits: reduced capacity to recognise and validate the feelings of others
  • Lack of meaningful engagement: confusion or disconnection around values and purposeful action

These characteristics can lead to various difficulties in personal, social, and professional functioning, as well as contribute to the development or maintenance of mental health challenges. Addressing these aspects of low emotional efficacy is crucial for improving overall emotional well-being and performance.

What is emotional efficacy therapy (EET)?

The emotional efficacy therapy (EET), protocol is a therapeutic approach that focuses on helping people develop a more powerful relationship with their emotions. Grounded in third-wave cognitive behavioural approaches, learning theory, and emotion science, EET focused on helping people shift the context in which they experience their emotions so they have more freedom and power to act on what matters in moments of choice.

Core EET skills include:

  • Emotion awareness: decoding default emotion messages and signals
  • Emotion acceptance: learning to “surf” through unwanted emotional experiences without reacting
  • Perspective-taking: recognising, validating and holding different perspectives
  • Values clarification: identifying interests, needs and yearnings
  • Values-based action: responding in ways that align with interests, desires and yearnings in a given situation
  • Emotion coping: dialling down the intensity of emotions to take values-based action in challenging situations when necessary
  • Exposure-based practice: using skills in activated states so learning ‘sticks’
  • Functional tracking: analysing whether actions move towards or away from values

EET has been applied in the treatment of various mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression, trauma, and other conditions where distress intolerance, emotional dysregulation and emotion avoidance are central drivers of psychological suffering.

How ACT and EET complement each other

Emotional efficacy therapy (EET) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are both process-based, transdiagnostic therapy approaches that overlap on the goal of psychological flexibility. As such EET can be used to flexibly and functionally complement ACT therapy through:

  • novel psychoeducation on emotion and emotion avoidance that can scaffold and amplify the practice of core ACT skills such as acceptance and cognitive defusion.
  • unique practices for decoding values (versus emotional defaults) making the ACT process of values clarification and committed action more accessible.
  • a simple method for tracking behaviour to determine whether it align with values
  • enhanced experiential work through structured exposure-based skills practice to help improve learning, retention and recall, which can enhance all core ACT skills: awareness, acceptance, defusion, self as context, values and committed action.

When combined, these two process-based approaches reinforce each other to enhance emotional intelligence, resilience, interpersonal effectiveness, psychological flexibility, wellbeing and performance. For more information on emotion efficacy therapy visit www.emotionefficacytherapy.com.

Dr. Aprilia West is also joining us for an introduction to emotion efficacy therapy workshop in March 2025, suitable for mental health professionals (and students under supervision), behavioural analysts, professional coaches plus any other interested healthcare professionals.

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