“Unexpressed emotions never die... but are buried alive and come forth later in uglier ways” claimed Sigmund Freud. Contemporary culture has gone a step further with the assumption that expressing feelings is important for mental well-being. We praise the sharing of mental health struggles, encourage men to express their emotional troubles, and uphold journaling as a valuable daily routine. But there's a problem. A recent study by Cambridge scientists showed that people trained to suppress negative thoughts, rather than unpack them, felt better and improved their wellbeing. Those with mental health issues benefitted the most. Meanwhile with millions seeking therapy, over half say they receive little or no benefit.
Might we all, and therapists in particular, be making a fundamental mistake assuming the expression of fears and concerns is beneficial? Can we improve wellbeing and address the mental health crisis with the suppression of negative thoughts and feelings? Or would this re-embed the stigma surrounding mental health and reverse hard-won progress?