“Affect Phobia”—or fear of feelings—is the unifying concept behind Affect Phobia Therapy, a powerful form of psychotherapy which has grown out of decades of research on Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy that have demonstrated encouraging results.
(for a comprehensive review, see Osborn et al, 2014)
Affect Phobia Therapy is based on the premise that internal conflicts about feelings underlie most psychologically-based disorders. Affect Phobia Therapy is an integrative model of short term dynamic psychotherapy (STDP) that was developed by Harvard Medical School psychologist and researcher, Leigh McCullough (McCullough-Valiant, 1997).
Affect Phobia Therapy integrates techniques from psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, and experiential therapies into a powerful whole that can increase the effectiveness of therapy and help it to proceed more rapidly.
Affects (the technical term for feelings or emotions) are the strongest motivators of human behavior. Affects can motivate healthy, adaptive behavior and they can also lead to unhealthy, maladaptive behavior.
When people are unable to use or respond to their emotions in healthy ways, they can develop symptoms and/or engage in patterns of maladaptive behavior. This inability to respond adaptively to emotion is usually unconscious, and is often referred to as “psychodynamic conflict,” but a key point of our work is that it can also be thought of as an “Affect Phobia.”
A person with a classical phobia such as a fear of elevators might hurt themselves by not taking a desirable job because it’s located in a tall building. Similarly, a person with a phobia about grief might avoid feelings of sadness by becoming angry instead, which can damage relationships and prevent them from doing necessary grief-work. (When people hear the term “Affect Phobia,” they often think that it refers to people who avoid all feelings, but in fact most people with affect phobias continue to experience and act on maladaptive feelings, as in this example).
Like classical phobias, Affect Phobias can be treated by “systematic desensitization”—helping the patient to experience progressively higher levels of the feared emotion (grief in the example above), while reducing associated inhibitory feelings such as anxiety or shame.
On this site, you can find a Certified APT-Therapist, a Certified APT-Trainer or Certified APT-Supervisor, as well as some helpful publications and forms that are used in Affect Phobia Therapy. If you are interested in becoming a Certified-APT Therapist, want to follow an APT-Core Training or workshop, or seek supervision, please contact Affect Phobia Therapy.
Read an Excerpt from this new book by James M. Donovan, Kristin Osborn, & Susan Rice
New Affect Phobia Therapy peer-review case studies on the treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder using APT