Mastering Emotional Control with the STOP Technique

Person with closed eyes and holding hands to chest

Clients often express their desire to just “put an end” to their unhealthy behaviours or troubling emotions. As helpful as that might sound, overcoming psychological distress isn’t as simple as “stopping” it. However, the concept of “stop” can be utilized in a way that improves mental well-being.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), founded by Marsha Linehan, introduces a distress tolerance skill called the STOP technique. This strategy can be particularly helpful when emotions threaten to lead us toward impulsive, harmful actions. For instance, when tempted to reach out to an ex or lash out at a customer service agent, the STOP technique might be just what’s needed.

The STOP technique is an acronym for Stop, Take a step back, Observe, and Proceed Mindfully.

1. Stop

The initial action involves physically stopping oneself. Though this might be the easiest part of the acronym to remember, it could also be the most challenging to apply if one’s emotions are used to taking the lead.

2. Take a Step Back

The next step entails taking a step back, which might involve momentarily stepping away from the situation or pausing to calm down. This step provides additional time to transition into a wise mind state, enabling a clearer assessment of the situation.

3. Observe

During the observation step, the goal is to evaluate the situation objectively. This involves observing one’s emotions, thoughts, environment, and physical sensations, as well as the events unfolding in the situation and the behaviour of others.

The aim is to view the situation without judgment, as if from the perspective of a detached observer. By focusing on the facts, it becomes possible to avoid the assumptions that our emotional mind creates to justify our feelings.

4. Proceed Mindfully

The last step involves proceeding mindfully, using the information gathered during the observation phase to act responsibly and thoughtfully. This entails keeping personal goals and the overall context of the situation in mind.

Ultimately, the objective is to choose an action that results in a better outcome. By employing the STOP technique, it becomes possible to regain control over one’s emotions and effectively disrupt and end impulsive behaviour.

Disclaimer: As a registered clinical counsellor and registered psychotherapist (qualifying), I'm sharing insights on my blog for informational purposes, not professional advice or treatment. My writing aims to inspire you to consult your own healthcare or mental health provider. Remember, your decisions based on the blog content are solely your responsibility. Please explore other resources if this understanding doesn't align with your expectations. Thank you.

Clayre is a trans, queer, and visually impaired psychotherapist with a busy online therapy practice. Based on the West Coast of Canada, she is a Registered Clinical Counsellor in BC (18118), a Counselling Therapist in AB (2035), a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) in ON (13869), and a Canadian Certified Counsellor (10006504). When she isn't in session, she's reading, teaching, writing, or forest bathing. Work with Clayre: get in touch or book online.

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