The Highly Sensitive Person in Psychotherapy
A Workshop with Dr Elaine Aron, Dr Art Aron and Dr Michael Pluess
Recorded Saturday 25 July 2020
We often think of highly sensitive people as having less structured boundaries than others: their heightened responses can be confused with poor ego function, with personality or mood disorders. But in this conference we will be looking at new work with Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) as those who have an innate trait of sensory processing sensitivity (SPS).READ MORE...
Highly Sensitive People may be super-perceptive, but they also face the considerable and persistent challenges of processing multiple stimuli in depth. They can be easily overwhelmed, including by the therapy relationship itself. To avoid the risk of misdiagnosis – of a borderline or trauma issue, for example – the therapist’s understanding of the SPS’s inner world, and especially how it resonates with their childhood experiences, is crucial. When attachments have been good, the highly sensitive person may flourish; when adverse, they are more prone than others to depression, anxiety and shyness in adulthood. Therapeutic work may need to include dealing with overstimulation and setting boundaries; managing stronger emotional reactions, particularly in relation to criticism; low self-esteem; and the need to reframe even a good childhood and work history.
As well as considering the importance of making accurate differential diagnoses our presenters will also consider many aspects of a highly sensitive person’s needs: how to discuss the trait with them or their families; sensitivity and gender; issues in relationships; challenges at work, and differences in sexual style.
Useful link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensory_processing_sensitivity
Dr Michael Pluess
Individual Differences in Environmental Sensitivity: Risk, Resilience and Implications for Treatment
The notion that some people are more affected than others by the same experience is widely embraced in most fields of psychology and usually framed in a Diathesis-Stress perspective: some people are more vulnerable to adverse experiences as a function of inherent risk characteristics (eg, personality, genes). More recently, it has been suggested that individuals may vary in their Environmental Sensitivity more generally: some are more affected by both negative as well as positive influences. Building on this now empirically well-supported proposition, the concept of Vantage Sensitivity refers to variation in response to exclusively positive experiences, such as psychological interventions (Pluess & Belsky, 2013). After introducing these different theoretical perspectives and presenting empirical evidence for each of them featuring behavioural, physiological, neuroimaging and genetic factors as moderators of a wide range of experiences ranging from family environment and psychotherapy to educational intervention, Michael will point out important conceptual differences between the concepts before discussing potential mechanisms of sensitivity and practical implications.
Dr Elaine Aron
Clinical Implications of the Research for Assessment
The research findings on differential susceptibility, along with the characteristics of SPS associated with it, do make assessment complex. Presentations may vary from a patient with a good childhood but severely stressed due to being overstimulated by mismanaged success, to those with traumatic childhoods or severe attachment issues who are deeply troubled and in whom sensitivity might be missed. Further assessment complications result from other traits that may be present, for example, extraversion or high sensation seeking. We will discuss what to look for in a patient’s history and current presentation, and the three mistakes to be avoided. Elaine will conclude the session with an experiential exercise in pairs.
Dr Elaine Aron
Most Typical Clinical Issues Related to the Trait
In this session Elaine will describe some typical problems of HSPs with the clinical implications for supporting clients. These issues include dealing with overstimulation and setting boundaries; managing their stronger emotional reactions, particularly in relation to criticism; low self-esteem; and the need to reframe even a good childhood and work history. Also therapists may need to support clients to consider the feasibility of continuing in a lifestyle like those without the trait. In the time remaining we will explore a few of the special issues that arise for highly sensitive men, highly sensitive children and highly sensitive parents.
Dr Art Aron
Highly Sensitive People in Relationships, Including the Therapist
Art will be talking about the interface of SPS and relationships. This will include a discussion on countertransference in the therapeutic relationship, along with presenting research findings and relating to established practices for improving HSP’s relationships. Finally, Art will lead an in depth exploration of a participant’s relationship to high sensitivity, either in themselves for those who are HSPs or in influential past relationships with partners, parents, children, mentors or patients.