Authentic Training Logo

Emotional Intelligence & How to Improve It: A Guide for Therapists, Counselors, and Other Helping Professionals

black female and white male talking | Hero image for Emotional Intelligence & How to Improve it

Emotional intelligence is a critical skill set for therapists, counselors, peers, health care, and mental health professionals. Learning to improve emotional intelligence deepens empathy and compassion; facilitates quick engagement, radical acceptance, and effective partnerships; and guides individuals toward healing and personal growth.

Internationally renowned psychologist and father of the Emotional IQ movement, Daniel Goleman, has claimed, “Research shows that for jobs of all kinds, emotional intelligence is twice as important an ingredient of outstanding performance as cognitive ability and technical skill combined.” If this is indeed what the research shows, it is the keystone skill to help us perform better and make real change.

Growing up in a family riddled with alcoholism taught me not to trust what I heard and saw as true. Reality becomes elusive in such an environment steeped in denial. As the oldest of five siblings, I developed keen intuition but was repeatedly told I was wrong. Living with these discrepancies made me doubt everything and fear speaking my truth for fear of being corrected.

People with histories like these frequently feel emotionally frozen and find it challenging to be authentic in their interactions. This often leads to a strong inclination to please others by always saying what they want to hear, giving rise to an inner critic as a defense mechanism against further failures. The constant invalidation of one’s perceptions can erode confidence and diminish the belief in one’s ability to protect oneself. Regrettably, all painful and positive emotions become frozen in such a state, hindering personal growth and emotional well-being.

Because so many of our clients and patients grew up in similar situations, it’s essential for helping professionals to grow their emotional intelligence to understand these unique challenges deeply.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the best predictor of success in adult life.

Individuals with high EQ demonstrate profound self-awareness, allowing them to effectively identify, understand, and articulate their emotions. Moreover, they can regulate their emotions, navigate complex situations with grace, and understand the consequences of their emotional responses.

For helping professionals, recognizing, and empathetically responding to others’ emotions are pivotal aspects of EQ. This empathic connection fosters trust and rapport, creating a safe space for clients to authentically express themselves and embark on their journey of healing and growth. Additionally, the interplay of self-awareness, emotional regulation, and empathy leads to greater motivation and better social skills, enabling us to form robust therapeutic alliances and maintain enduring relationships with our clients.

The Impact of Emotional Intelligence on Social Situations

Imagine a social situation where you are on the brink of saying something others might not receive well. In such instances, individuals with high emotional intelligence (High EQ) exercise self-control and decide to keep their thoughts to themselves, preserving the harmony of the moment. On the other hand, those with lower emotional intelligence (Low EQ) may express their views without fully understanding the potential consequences, leading to misunderstandings, or unintentionally upsetting others. The good news is that EQ can be learned.

The Good News: Emotional Intelligence Can Be Developed

Unlike IQ, which remains relatively stable over time, emotional intelligence can be cultivated and enhanced through dedicated effort and a willingness to learn. Through practice and openness to learning, helping professionals can improve EQ to serve their clients better.

My Journey to Better Emotional Intelligence & How I Improved It

The journey to improving emotional intelligence began through my connection with horses. Horses have an extraordinary ability to provide honest and immediate feedback, which makes them perfect teachers for understanding and enhancing emotional intelligence. At fifteen, I purchased a six-month-old stud colt and had my first summer job. This experience was pivotal in my emotional development, as for the first time, I loved something that didn’t demand anything beyond the basics of food and shelter. My horse taught me invaluable life lessons, including unconditional love, acceptance, forgiveness, and the importance of living in the present moment.

As prey animals, horses rely heavily on their instincts, often responding with flight before contemplation. To override this instinct and establish trust with my horse, I learned to approach him slowly, confidently, and calmly.

Whenever I was upset, my horse would sense my distress and become anxious, anticipating potential danger. This taught me the importance of self-reflection, identifying my feelings, and communicating genuine calm to my horse. In return, I earned his trust, and, more importantly, discovered my ability to control my emotions effectively. The skills learned while working with my horse became even more vital when riding him.

Within a herd, a stallion and a lead mare communicate with the rest, signaling danger and guiding them to safety. Horses are highly attuned to emotional changes in their environment, transitioning from calm while eating to hyper-alertness and flight in response to perceived threats. These subtle or dramatic shifts in body language provide cues to their emotional states, fostering non-verbal communication with their rider.

This bond and connection between horse and rider reflect the empathic and intuitive aspects of emotional intelligence—where one can sense and respond to the other’s emotions without explicit verbal communication.

I can only describe my connection with my horse as miraculous, and I am grateful for this experience that significantly contributed to my success in adulthood.

I acknowledge that not everyone may have access to horses or similar experiences. However, the fundamental principles of emotional intelligence can be cultivated in any healthy, connected relationship, be it with colleagues, clients, or loved ones.

Strategies to Improve Emotional Intelligence for Helping Professionals

Improving emotional intelligence is a multi-faceted process that requires attention and commitment to practicing the five components of EQ: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

Below are specific strategies designed for therapists, counselors, and other professionals in the helping field:

Engage in Regular Self-Reflection

Self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence, and fostering it requires a commitment to self-reflection. Self-regulation is a daily exercise in drawing awareness to your feelings, verbalizing emotions, reflecting on their consequences, and acknowledging their ever-changing nature.

Practice Self-Regulation

Enhance self-regulation skills by actively managing emotions and behaviors. Practice pausing or resisting impulsive actions, choosing thoughtful responses over immediate reactions. Act deliberately, empowering yourself to navigate challenging situations with emotional composure.

Cultivate Motivation

Improve your motivation by recognizing the value of accomplishing your goals. Use emotional factors as catalysts for achieving success. Find joy in the learning journey and to maintain resilience when faced with obstacles.

Foster Empathy

For therapists, counselors, and helping professionals, enhancing empathy is vital in building emotional intelligence. Sharpen your skill to identify clients’ emotions accurately and differentiate between genuine and false expressions. This deeper understanding enables you to forge authentic connections, fostering more impactful and compassionate therapeutic relationships.

Foster Empathy

For therapists, counselors, and helping professionals, empathy lies at the core of emotional intelligence that will help you deliver better outcomes for your clients. Practice active listening and offer empathetic responses during client interactions. Seek a genuine understanding of your client’s emotions and validate their experiences to create a safe and supportive therapeutic environment. This will help you sharpen your skill to identify clients’ emotions accurately and differentiate between genuine and false expressions.

Hone Your Social Skills

Study social cues and body language to enhance your ability to interact appropriately in various situations and understand your clients. Build meaningful relationships, practice effective communication, and maintain genuine friendships.

Emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in the success of therapists, counselors, and helping professionals. Learning how to improve emotional intelligence enhances empathy, effective communication, and client partnership—resulting in better outcomes. As we practice self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills, we can cultivate stronger connections with our clients, creating a safe and supportive environment for healing and growth. By acknowledging the significance of emotional intelligence in our profession and implementing these strategies, we can elevate our therapeutic practice and positively impact the lives of those we serve.

Related Posts

Stay in the know

Fill out the form below to receive newsletters from Authentic Trainings LLC

Newsletter Sign Up

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: . You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact