Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.
What Is a Reflection of Feelings?
Myra visited a therapist to discuss her depression and dissatisfaction with her marriage. The therapist often labeled Myra's feelings of anger and sadness, which assured Myra that she was being listened to and understood. Every time the therapist labeled Myra's emotions or feelings correctly, Myra felt like she could continue talking and discussing her troubled marriage.
Counselors and social workers are often reflecting the feelings of their clients. This is a basic, yet important, therapeutic technique. Reflecting feelings is determining the feelings and emotions in a person's verbal and body language and stating (or reflecting) those feelings back to the person or client. When a counselor reflects their client's feelings, it is almost as if the counselor is acting as a mirror, or reflection, of the client's emotional state.
Purpose of Reflecting Feelings
There's a reason that counselors and social workers utilize this simple, yet effective technique in their sessions with clients. Just reflecting feelings alone can make a client feel validated, understood, and listened to, and it can even bring awareness to hidden secondary emotions. Let's look at these purposes in more detail.
Reflecting feelings validates a person's feelings. Validating, or 'okaying,' someone's feelings through reflecting their feelings is a way to tell that person that you are accepting of their feelings. This can be a relief to a person or client who is struggling with some difficult feelings. Imagine a man in a Catholic confessional exposing some of his deepest and darkest secrets to a priest:
Joe tells his priest, ''I'm married but I have been seeing another woman intimately, and I haven't been able to sleep or eat because keeping this secret is eating me up inside.''
The priest replies, ''You are feeling guilty.''
Joe says, ''Exactly, tremendously guilty.''
In this case, the priest is reflecting Joe's gut-wrenching feeling of guilt, and in effect, this validates and supports Joe's feeling this way.
Additionally, reflecting feelings makes a person feel understood and listened to. In a world with so many distractions, good listeners are hard to come by. Thus, when someone not only listens to us, but also reflects our feelings back to us, we feel like we are truly being listened to and understood. Imagine Emily, a financial advisor who's feeling frustrated because she has had one too many superficial conversations with people at a networking event. Emily finally meets Gus, who is skilled at active listening and reflection of feelings:
Emily tells Gus, ''It seems that no matter how hard I try or how much I do it, I cannot get comfortable with cold calling. It just seems so icky to me, but I know that I have to do it to acquire more clients.''
Gus replies,''And that's frustrating for you because it's a big part of your job right now, so you wish you could feel more at ease doing it.''
''Wow, yes.'' says Emily.
Finally, reflecting feelings brings a person awareness of their own concealed or unnoticeable feelings. Primary emotions like sadness, anger, and happiness are easy for people to discern because they are often the first emotions that are felt. A person may feel angry or mad, but they may be experiencing an underlying, or secondary emotion of resentment, like in the following example:
Grace says, ''So, I allowed my brother-in-law to stay with us for a month, but he's been living at our home for six months now. He doesn't work, eats our food, and just lounges on the couch all day watching television. It's making me crazy angry.''
Rick responds, ''You're livid with your brother-in-law and perhaps feeling resentful?''
Grace replies, ''You know what, I hadn't thought of it that way, but that's exactly it!''
Reflecting Feelings in Counseling
As mentioned before, reflecting feelings is a basic, common, and effective therapeutic technique that all counselors use in their practice with clients. After all, if a counselor is making a client feel validated, understood, and listened to through reflecting feelings, then the counselor is establishing a rapport and effecting a working relationship with that client. In the following example, we will look at reflecting feelings of ambivalence and reluctance that are often seen in clients at the beginning of therapy.
Tony is a social worker who provides in-home therapy to low-income families. Before meeting with his new 15-year-old client, Sebastian, Tony is aware that Sebastian wants nothing to do with a family counselor. When Tony sits down for the assessment with Sebastian, Sebastian's body language validates that theory. Sebastian sits facing the door (not Tony), hunched over with crossed arms, and a sour facial expression:
Tony says ''Hi Sebastian, I'm Tony. I work with Children's Family Services and I'll be your new family counselor.''
Sebastian is silent…
Tony says ''It seems like you're angry that I'm here and would rather be doing anything other than meet with me.''
Sebastian finally provides eye contact but remains silent…
Tony says ''Also you are probably feeling it's unfair that you are being made to see a counselor?''
Sebastian nods his head in agreement.
It may take a few more minutes or some more reflecting of Sebastian's feelings, but Tony is making headway with this angry and reluctant teen just through reflection of the teen's feelings that are apparent through his body language.
Reflection of feelings is determining the feelings and emotions in a person or client's verbal and body language, and stating (or reflecting) those feelings back to the person. It is a popular counseling method, but it can be used in any conversation where the listener wants the speaker to feel heard, understood, and validated. Three purposes of reflecting feelings are:
- Validating a person's feelings
- Making a person feel understood and listened to
- Helping bring self-awareness to a person of any hidden or unnoticeable (secondary) feelings
Reflecting feelings is often used in counseling to establish rapport and build a relationship with a client. It is also used to make a client feel understood, encourage them to express themselves and open up more, and help them be aware of their own emotions and feelings.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack
Resources created by teachers for teachers
I would definitely recommend Study.com to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.