Improving Emotional Intelligence in Psychosis with Art Therapyby Ann Reitan, PsyD | July 16, 2013
Emotional intelligence is defined as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” Self-regulation of emotional intelligence is is vital to healthy emotional interactions.
Emotional intelligence is formed of interpersonal intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence. Interpersonal intelligence reflects competence in the context of social relationships, while intrapersonal intelligence reflects the ability to regulate one’s own emotions.
The degree of an individual’s emotional intelligence affects the degree to which that individual can deal psychopathological conditions such as schizophrenia. Although schizophrenics may be emotionally sensitive, the interpersonal and intrapersonal spheres of emotional intelligence of these individuals are likely to be negatively impacted for several reasons.
Due to the fact that schizophrenia emerges in late adolescence and early adulthood, it is likely that the Eriksonian stages of social development that correspond with this emergent pathology are negatively impacted by schizophrenia, especially the tasks of achieving independence and forming close relationships.
Much of what comprises emotional intelligence relies on self-permeable boundaries related to appropriate detachment and attachment with others. In terms of successful negotiation of the Eriksonian stages, “identity versus role confusion” may allow the individual to determine appropriate detachment from others by means of differentiating the self, and “intimacy versus isolation” may allow the individual to achieve appropriate attachment within the context of a relationship with another person.
Psychotic individuals have obstacles achieving this due to factors implicit to psychosis. These individuals are both socially alienated and overly involved in their mental realms, stemming partly from stigmatization that may not allow them to find what they perceive as accurate reflections of their internal states in the external world and their understanding of other people. Empathic reflection, in the tradition of Roger’s Person-Centered Therapy, is seldom understood to be available to schizophrenics, perhaps simply due to the fact that most clinicians cannot relate to the psychotic experience of a schizophrenic.
In addition, auditory hallucinations — the internal or intrapersonal experience of a schizophrenic — may be represented by an amalgamation of perceptions of “self” and “other”. This experience does not necessarily allow the schizophrenic the ability to self-regulate her emotions, primarily because she does not entirely own her mental experience. Due to the representation of hallucinations in the minds of psychotic individuals as “entities”, there is also a lack of apparent privacy in the mental realm of the psychotic individual, and the type of experience implied by this perceived lack of privacy can be punitive.
If people with psychosis cannot distinguish boundaries in their own mind, how can they be expected to demonstrate effective intrapersonal intelligence? If stigma causes impenetrable interpersonal boundaries between the psychotic mind and the minds of those who are not psychotic, how can psychotic individuals demonstrate effective interpersonal intelligence?
So this brings us to an essential question: How can the schizophrenic individual negotiate both the intrapersonal and the interpersonal realms in a healthy way? The schizophrenic requires some means of healthy self-expression that allows for symbolic representation of the self that can be at least partly understood by others.
It is suggested that artistic self-expression is a means of creating a personal stance in the social arena that will allow for healthy regulation of emotion. Art therapy could be an important avenue toward increased mental health in the psychotic individual. Engaging in art not only allows the psychotic individual to express his own emotions to others, but the canvas (whether a poem, song or literal canvas) can reflect back to him his internal state. This dialogue between the artist and his work serves an important therapeutic function.
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