Contribution to psychotherapy garners professor major US award

York psychology Professor Leslie Greenberg, a pioneer of Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT), has been chosen as the winner of the 2012 American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Applied Research.

Greenberg (PhD ’96) has spent more than 20 years researching a psychotherapy method that helps people become aware of their emotions and express them, learn to tolerate and regulate them, and finally, to make sense of them and transform them. He now trains therapists from around the world in the technique at York University’s Emotion-Focused Therapy Clinic (see Aug. 4, 2010 issue of YFile).

Right: Leslie Greenberg

“It’s not about eliminating emotions, but working with them,” says Greenberg. “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Psychoanalysis are effective, but Emotion-Focused Therapy is based on the principle that emotional change is best achieved by changing emotion with emotion, rather than with understanding or rationality, and this results in more enduring change."

Emotion-Focused Therapy helps people identify which of their emotions they can trust as adaptive guides, and learn which emotions are maladaptive and need to be changed. Therapy enables clients to experience negative emotions in a safe environment. EFT is based on the principle that people cannot leave a place until they have arrived at it, so it requires clients both to reclaim disowned emotion by experiencing aspects of themselves that they may not have consciously felt or may have pushed away, and then transforming them by experiencing new emotions to change the old emotions. Clients learn to use adaptive emotions such as healthy grief, empowering anger and compassion as resources to transform maladaptive emotions such as fear and shame.

After decades of research, Emotion-Focused Therapy is now recognized as an evidence-based treatment for depression, as well as couple conflict. There is also growing evidence it is effective for treating individuals who are traumatized or are living with interpersonal problems or eating disorders.

Greenberg, a professor in York’s Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Health, was given the University’s highest honour in 2010 when he was named a Distinguished Research Professor. He has received many awards over a long career and has published widely.

The American Psychological Association will present Greenberg with its highest award for applied research at the 2012 APA Convention in Florida in August, where he will speak about his work.