Readings For A Patient Who Can’t Identify Emotions

A consultee asked for recommendations of readings for a patient who often can’t connect with or name emotions.  Here’s my reply:


It’s a challenge to work with a client who can’t connect with or name emotions.  A couple of books that come to mind are “Emotional Intelligence,” by Daniel Goleman, which is a popularization about the importance of being aware of others’ feelings and our own, and, for a deeper dive into the scientific study of emotion, “The Archeology of Mind,” by Panksepp and Biven, focusing on Panksepp’s lifetime of work on the emotion networks in the subcortical brain of mammals, and Biven’s comments on what that might mean for people (she’s an analyst).


You probably know that there are lists of feelings, you can find them online, and I have sometimes printed them out and handed them to my patient at a time when he, or she, was unable to identify feelings in a situation we were discussing.
Another way to explore this is to make space in the therapy to stop the conversation about situations and events and focus on feelings.  Its can be uncomfortable to do this because the patient is uncomfortable and the therapist feels that discomfort and wants to fix it for the patient, and the patient may explicitly want the therapist to do something to relieve the discomfort.  Of course there’s an optimal level of discomfort, too much isn’t useful, and so we have to gauge that in the moment.
Sometimes its useful to ask patients who can’t identify their feelings to begin with a somatic focus; what are they aware of in their bodies.  Often they may find that their breathing is shallow, jaw tight, etc., and sometimes they can go from there to identifying a feeling.
It can also be useful to ask patients to keep a journal, writing at the end of the day about what happened during the day, what events and interactions they had with people, and how they felt as they went through them.  It often starts out as a difficult assignment for them, but can get easier with practice, and of course it is helping them to grow new networks in their brains between networks for emotions and networks for consciousness.
Good luck!