Unit 5 – Islands of Emotions

The intervention “Islands of Emotions” is useful for decision-making and reflection on diverse topics like feelings, characteristics and goals. It is also helpful for clarification, self-awareness, for diagnosis, and analysis of group situations or relationship aspects. With the materials, access to the often difficult-to-verbalize theme of emotions is much easier.


Learners know how to

  • work efficiently with the intervention “Islands of Emotions”; use the materials to guide the client.
  • take advantage of the versatility of the materials.


Learners are able to

  • independently assist clients in defining their theme, question or aim.
  • encourage and help clients to work with the material to make individual feelings conscious and to discover, perceive and explore them.


Learners have the competence to

  • independently prepare and structure this process and use the developed materials accordingly to guide the client.

Islands of Emotions

Feelings control many of our activities but talking about them is one of the most sensitive issues in counselling.

What’s the role of feelings? They help us to recall our experiences sometimes in fractions of a second and to assess people and situations in order to reach our goals faster and more easily.

But often we are not aware of our feelings. This can block further steps and decisions and is often not easy to change alone.

What makes me feel a certain way? What feelings do I trigger in others? Do I allow feelings? When do I push feelings away? What role do feelings play in my family? How do I experience feelings?

Who can name feelings exactly? Accepting and arranging feelings often seems difficult, or impossible to the client.

This is particularly the case if a large number of triggering factors are present, if the feelings are in the distant past or if they cannot be related to in the current situation.

Often, it has not been possible for clients to verbalise their feelings for a long period of time. Here the Islands of Emotions provides a good opportunity for visualization, clarification and processing.

The materials

Blue denim

A piece of blue denim (about 150x150cm) is used as a base to symbolize the ocean.

Wooden plates

There are 22 pieces of plywood in the shape of islands. These islands are marked as follows:

Anxiety, anger, fear, depression, solitude, happiness, fright, serenity, luck, misery, love, lust, power, envy, guilt, worry, pride, shame, pain, yearning, grief, and rage.

The back of the plywood shapes is painted in black slate. These sides can be written on with chalk and therefore used to add additional feelings or other things such as tasks, aims, etc.

Wooden tokens and additional materials

Other items in this set include a small wooden ship, 10 tokens, chalk and a buoy in yellow and black. The yellow side of the buoy stands for pleasant feelings and the black side stands for unpleasant ones. The tokens are used to symbolize people. The ship serves as transport.

Process of counselling with the Islands of Emotions

Please try out this intervention with a colleague and work through the following steps.


The client should set a clear headline for the topic, an issue they want to work on. The practitioner decides whether the intervention method fits the topic or to suggest different materials if needed.

Once the topic has been defined, the client is left alone to create their own sea and to lie down the islands featuring these emotions or they can write down missing ones on the backside of the islands. If wanted, the client also can use the boat and tokens provided in the materials.

Step 1 – Presentation

The client states the heading/ topic of her presentation.

If there is a group setting, the client chooses 2 or 3 ‘observers’ as a ‘supporting group’. These peers are actively involved in all steps of the session.

The client talks about what they have created always stating which island or symbol they are talking about (e.g. “this island stands for…”). The client begins the explanation at any island they want and explains what all the chosen islands and other symbols used are.

The practitioner listens carefully to what is being told and is aware of the client’s presence. While he is speaking, the practitioner observes his gestures, mimicry, posture, breathing, the pitch of her voice. Does he show emotions, does he touch a symbol, which one?

Step 2 – Factual questions

The practitioner asks factual questions. These questions only refer to the symbols, to “what is visible”. No “why?”- or “how come?”-questions are asked. This is not about interpretation but understanding only.

The client answers the factual questions.

Step 3 – Perception

The practitioner addresses the client directly and describes everything they have perceived and observed while being told the story. If someone detects emotions, they should explain how they were perceived (Mimicry, gestures, pitches of the voice etc.).

The client listens attentively.

These observations can be about

  • body language, for example, movements of the face or gestures,
  • pitch of the voice
  • actions, for example, interacting with a symbol.

Step 4 – Interpretation

The practitioner and the group talk about the client thinking aloud, asking questions like “what is the problem?”, “What should be different?”, “What would he want to solve, understand, do?”, “Where could the difficulties be?”

The client listens attentively and does not respond for now.

The group, together with the practitioner, is allowed to discuss their interpretation together during this stage, as long as they are talking to each other and not the client.

Step 5 – Agreement and evaluation

This stage leads into a discussion between client and practitioner about any support that is needed and further steps required for the client to reach their goal. At the end, the client should be committed to the agreed actions.

Working with the buoy:

As a conclusion, all used feelings can be sorted with unpleasant feelings placed on the black side of the buoy, and pleasant feelings on the yellow side.

Now, imagine a scale. How are the feelings distributed? Is there a balance between positive and negative feelings? Every human being needs positive experiences to survive. If these are no longer perceived, there is an urgent need for support.

Then every feeling should be checked again to see if it stays in place or changes sides.

Example: Love

This can lie lies on the yellow side (pleasant feelings) or on the black side (unpleasant feelings) if it is about the longed-for love.

Have you completed all the content of this unit? Please take a moment to review. Done? Please proceed to Unit 6.
For any open questions, please consult the Resource tab or contact your course leader.