Philosophical Topics

Volume 47, Issue 2, Fall 2019

Emotion Regulation

Tad ZawidzkiOrcid-ID
Pages 27-51

Metacognitive Skill and the Therapeutic Regulation of Emotion

Many psychiatric disorders are characterized by problems with emotion regulation. Well-known therapeutic interventions include exclusively discursive therapies, like classical psychoanalysis, and exclusively noncognitive therapies, like psycho-pharmaceuticals. These forms of therapy are compatible with different theories of emotion: discursive therapy is a natural ally of cognitive theories, like Nussbaum’s (2009), according to which emotions are forms of judgment, while psycho-pharmacological intervention is a natural ally of noncognitive theories, like Prinz’s (2006), according to which emotions are forms of stimulus-dependent perception. I explore a third alternative: the therapeutic regulation of emotion as the development of metacognitive skills. This is a natural characterization of newer forms of therapy that are increasingly prescribed, like so-called Third-Wave Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other mindfulness-inspired interventions. I argue that these newer forms of therapy make sense if we conceive of emotion as neither a form of judgment nor a form of perception, but, rather, as a variety of what Gendler calls “alief ” (2008). As Gendler notes, although aliefs do not succumb to direct rational regulation, they can be trained. Thus, if we conceive of emotions as aliefs, we can make sense of their therapeutic regulation through the development of metacognitive skills. Drawing on recent philosophical analyses of skill, as well as empirical paradigms in emotion regulation, and Buddhist characterizations of meditative practice, I sketch a characterization of metacognitive skill, and conclude with some reflections on the advantages of conceiving of psychotherapy as the development of metacognitive skills.