The amount and resistance of the barriers to emotional discharge which any particular client has accumulated will vary greatly. One client will go into a full-scale discharge of tears, laughter, anger or heavy fear, in response to the initial question, "What's the problem." Another may seem perfectly calm and controlled, and incapable of releasing any tension under the most favorable conditions. In the second case, of course, the person has been so thoroughly interfered with in tense situations in childhood as to have adopted as his own, compulsively, the holding in of his discharges under conditions of tension. He is in the position of a person rolled tightly in a ball of string. He can help the counselor get him out of the inhibition or controls only very little at first. He needs much skill, understanding, and patience, operating from the outside.

In all cases, however, the basic rule will apply: if the free attention of a person can be balanced between present-time, secure, un-painful reality AND the distressing experience pattern, then discharge will tend to occur spontaneously.

Outwitting the Control Pattern

Since the ways in which a person has come to hold in his painful emotion were ways that were developed during experiences of tension, then these "control patterns" are themselves necessarily rigid. For the spontaneous process of emotional discharge to be inhibited, these particular behaviors must be resorted to. When a client is in the position of having part of her attention in the tense material and part in the reassuring reality of present time, then either emotion will spontaneously discharge or a control pattern must be in operation. This control pattern will consist, in part, of the things that you observe the client doing at this time, and, since it is rigid you can be of great help to your client by asking her to change what she is doing in some way so as to disturb or break up the rigidity of the way she is acting.

One client, for example, may talk with furious rapidity in such a situation. If you request and insist on slow repetition of one tense thought over and over, the fast-talking control pattern will be interrupted and discharge will probably occur.

Another client, caught in a control pattern of embarrassment, will hook her feet tightly together, grip the arm of the chair, hold her head back. If you ask such a person to uncross her feet, swing her arms in a relaxed manner, and put her chin on her chest as she talks about this tension, discharge is likely to begin as the rigid control pattern is interrupted.

Another client may be "composed", i.e., holding herself stiffly at attention in a facsimile of relaxation. The counselor may show such a person how to jitter visibly, pretend to chew at her fingertips, wiggle her feet, and do other nervous mannerisms which other people resort to. The thought of doing it will interrupt the rigid control pattern and discharge again is likely to occur spontaneously.


Because almost everyone has been hurt in situations where he has been ridiculed, belittled or downgraded, your client is nearly certain to have some kind of a chronic pattern of invalidating himself.

To contradict this pattern by encouraging your client to validate himself is an easy, safe way to begin effective counseling. Asking your client to praise himself will bring the "kickback" of the particular negative feelings of his pattern, and when these are specifically contradicted, discharge will occur freely.

For example, you may ask your man client to tell you in a sincere voice that he is "the handsomest, smartest and kindest hero in the world." If he tries, his invalidation pattern will compel him immediately afterwards to say that "he never figured he was very smart," for instance. At this point you know that you want him to concentrate on praising his intelligence for the largest amount of discharge.

A woman client who "wishes she were smart" should be put to work telling you in a happy voice that she is an "intelligent woman." (Her intelligence will begin to be more functional as soon as she begins to discharge.)

Emotional Discharge Undeliberate

Discharge can very seldom be a deliberate process. The client is directed to do something else - to tell the story of the emotional event, to repeat the poignant phrase, to answer the crucial question - and as he tries to do this, the discharge begins spontaneously.

Occasionally, the counselor will apparently direct the client to discharge emotion but it will be a pseudo-direction, intended to allow a spontaneous discharge of a different kind than that "asked" for.

Thus, the counselor might ask the client to use a sad face and a sad voice to describe an event, and a long laughter discharge might ensue each time he attempts to do so. In so doing, your client avoids the control pattern for holding in the fear discharge (laughter) which is available.

Sometimes, too, discharge can be reached by having a client "go through the motions." Shaking a fist and shouting an angry phrase repeatedly is not of itself an anger discharge but it is very likely to permit a real anger discharge to emerge if that level of anger is being suppressed. Similarly, to have the client deliberately and repeatedly shudder while talking about an incident of terror will not be a discharge itself, but is likely to permit the real, spontaneous shudders to come at any turn of the narrative.

Acting a Part

Often in order to help your client break through the patterns which are keeping her from talking about that which she needs to talk about, or from discharging painful emotion that she needs to discharge, you will play a kind of dramatic role.

You will act like, or sometimes unlike, the characters who were associated with the tensions which she is trying to get rid of. This character-playing will be always understood to be sheer pretense and will never obscure your basic role of being sincerely concerned, warmly interested and friendly.

Repeatedly Check for Identifications

When a client talks about and shows tension on people, you as counselor need always to check for the earlier person with whom identification has been made.

Tension from a father often becomes transferred to a husband. By working over these identifications with all the techniques at your disposal, the tension on the identified characters will be lessened. Also, very important, they will become separated from each other and so much easier to re-evaluate on, each by each. The husband who no longer is identified with the father becomes someone off whom the tensions can be discharged much more easily than before the identification was broken.

Counselor, Too

This need to ferret out, discharge and re-evaluate on identifications of one person with another applies with special force to the counselor. In the beginning of work on any client, you should check, "Whom do I remind you of," and try to get the client to express his spontaneous thoughts on this, even if he doubts on the awareness level that such resemblance exists. It does not matter if the person with whom you become identified is positive or negative in his role in the person's past. Tensions attaching to him will tend to become tied to you and create great difficulties in the counseling relationship.

"Whom do I remind you of?" "How am I like him?" "How else am I like him?" "How else am I like him?" etc. "How am I different than he is?" "How did you feel toward him?" Here again, even if the response is, "Oh, fine, I had complete trust and confidence in that person," this, too, needs to be expressed.

If you as counselor become identified with Uncle Pete from the client's past who was mean and cruel and wasn't understanding, then of course it is obvious that the client attaching these characteristics to you will find it very difficult to work well with you. But it is equally true that if the client identifies you with Uncle Henry who was kind and good and understanding and always gave him candy whenever he visited, there can be a difficulty, too. Because unless the identification is brought out, discussed and counseled on, a good session with you will nevertheless leave the client feeling frustrated and disappointed in you without knowing why. The reason being (below awareness) that you failed to really be Uncle Henry and let him leave the session without a bag of candy or some similar gift.

Persisting with Discharge

Beginning counselors are usually amazed and sometimes appalled at how persistently the discharge needs to be maintained. For the client's sake, everything depends on staying with discharge until all the tension is released, but the creeping restimulation of the counselor is likely to make anything else about the client's case seem more interesting and important. The counselor has to remember that the client, too, is compulsively eager to get away from the discharge and leave part of it still stored, so that only the counselor can be depended on to furnish the persistence necessary.

Clients who speak of having "cried for days" before counseling will, after a two-hour continuous discharge of tears, usually estimate the session as more crying than they had done in all their life previously.

Last modified: 2022-03-01 00:42:33+00