To coincide with the launch of our new Emotional Processing Scale (EPS), we sat down with the test’s lead author, Roger Baker, to find out more about emotional processing and how the EPS was developed.
Roger is a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Bournemouth University and has spent much of his career working as a researcher and clinical psychologist at various UK universities and NHS Mental Health Trusts. Noticing the need for a psychometric scale in the area of emotion, the EPS was developed over 15 years by Roger and his team, aided by 85 research collaborations along the way.
You can view the EPS page on our website here and read his interview in full below:
Thanks for joining us today to discuss the Emotional Processing Scale. How did you first get involved in the area of ‘emotional processing’?
I was actually carrying out research and therapy with people with panic disorder when I kept noticing there was something unusual about the way they dealt with emotions. They did not seem to connect really stressful life events with their panic attacks and thought in terms of physical sensations rather than emotions. I carried out a research study which showed that this was not just a chance observation. At first I thought this was specific to panic attacks, but as I treated patients with other conditions, I realised it applied to all anxiety disorders, depression and latterly psychosomatic and medical problems too. I began to realise that we might be dealing with a really important, perhaps even fundamental, dimension of mental health.
Please could you explain exactly what “emotional processing” is?
It refers to the way in which we come to terms with events in our life which have an impact on our emotions. The event might be huge such as a life threatening trauma, which requires a great deal of processing, or smaller, such as handling a critical comment, or ongoing such as bullying at work. There are all shades in between but everyday there are stresses, hassles and events in relating to others which need to be emotionally absorbed, adapted to and integrated into our experience so that we can get on with the task of daily living. Failure to process emotionally significant events can mean that too much emotional material intrudes into our life. There are many parallels between what is happening in psychological therapy and emotional processing – helping the person understand and come to terms with their distressing emotional experiences.
Please could you tell us a little about the development of the Emotional Processing Scale (EPS)?
While carrying out the research study with panic patients, I realised how hard it was to conduct emotion research because there were so few properly developed psychometric scales. I thought “this area really needs a good assessment scale”. I had previously developed “REHAB”, an assessment scale used in psychiatric rehabilitation with my colleague, John Hall, and had seen how useful that had been in clarifying thinking about discharging psychiatric patients from hospital. Something similar was needed in the area of emotions too. In 2000 our research team at Bournemouth made a start in developing an emotional processing scale using a standard psychometric approach. It has taken 15 years of development up to the point of publication! After developing a psychological “model” of what processing is, we designed the early proto-type and asked people with a range of different psychological or medical problems and healthy individuals to fill it in. After extensive statistical analysis a new and better version emerged which we tested with new groups of people, again statistically analysing the data and producing an updated version of the scale. These “iterations” continued until we were satisfied that we had a sound and stable assessment.
During the course of this research, others heard about the scale and progressively more research collaborators began to use it too. This was really helpful because it showed us how wide the application of the scale was and also 27 of our collaborators provided their data so that we could build up substantial tables of norms for the published scale.
Please could you explain how poor emotional processing styles can contribute to physical, psychosomatic and psychological disorders?
A wealth of psychological and psychiatric research shows how stressful life events can be the precursor to many different disorders including panic, depression, schizophrenia, chronic fatigue, eczema, asthma, exacerbation in Multiple Sclerosis and so on. There are also many studies showing how stress affects the immune system, which in turn can make a person more vulnerable to medical problems. However not everyone who experiences stressful life events develops problems. Something else is needed in the equation. A resilient emotional processing style means that a person can more effectively deal with stressors when they occur so there are less psychological and physical repercussions. Problematic styles of processing may mean that the stressful event is not properly absorbed or integrated, resulting in physical and psychological symptoms. In this sense emotional processing may be a key intervening variable between stressful life events and symptoms.
In emotionally processing significant life events, several different psychological mechanisms or processes are at work. Our scale identifies five core factors. Excessive suppression of emotional experience and emotional expression is one factor underpinning much psychological distress. Inability to control emotional expression may result in different sorts of disturbance. Misinterpretation of what others say and do may inflate levels of distressing emotional experience. Problems in the ability to label and understand ones emotional life, sometimes referred to “emotional literacy”, can mean an excessive focus on the physical signs of emotion with less understanding of the emotional meaning. Different “blends” of these factors can result in different types of distressing symptoms.
What is the relationship between emotional processing and healthy living?
Our emotions are not enemy forces to be conquered or whipped into shape but rather they help us to understand and interpret what is happening in life. We cannot determine what stresses and trials might come our way, but effective emotional processing facilitates quicker resolution of issues, helping us to move on. Inhibited or blocked processing slows our adaptation to events.
Emotional processing is facilitated by correctly registering and appraising what is happening in our life, underpinned by mature and accurate schemas, accepting and allowing emotions to be felt in full and appropriately and directly expressing emotions. Effective emotional processing may be a key to preventing the development of disorder even under adverse circumstances. Jack Rachman, who originally described emotional processing, made it clear that “for the most part disturbing emotional experiences are satisfactorily absorbed, suggesting that healthy processing is the norm.”
Please could you explain who the EPS is aimed at and how practitioners can incorporate the tool into their practice?
It is aimed at clinicians, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses and doctors involved in the psychological and emotional adjustment of patients/clients to stressful events. It is also designed for those conducting research into emotions. The scale is described as a “multi-purpose assessment scale” meaning that it has many different uses and in many types of setting. These include; to identify and quantify different emotional processing styles in healthy individuals and those with psychological or physical disorders; to assist psychological therapists either in the planning of therapy or in measuring the emotional effectiveness of therapy; to use as a questionnaire based research tool for exploring emotional factors; and to assess the risks of developing disturbance and predict treatment response. The EPS is a 25 item questionnaire, easily administered and relatively quick to fill in. One typical use which encompasses several of these aims is administering the EPS at the beginning of therapy. This gives the clinician useful emotional information for understanding the patient’s problems, helps to guide the therapy process and if repeated at a later stage in therapy, can act as a measure of the effectiveness of therapy.
You can view the EPS page on our website here.