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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Psychotherapy: Making the Unconscious Conscious

Often, when clients begin psychotherapy, they discover that there are many aspects of themselves that they are unaware of, especially if they've never been in therapy before.  One of the main goals of psychotherapy is for the unconscious to become conscious for these clients.

"Making the unconscious conscious" is a common phrase in psychotherapy, but what does it mean?

Psychotherapy:  Making the Unconscious Conscious
A couple of examples, which are fictionalized scenarios, might help to shed some light:

John:
When John began psychotherapy for the first time, when he was in his late 30s, he was adamant that he never got angry towards anyone or anything.  His attitude was that it didn't make sense to get angry, so he never felt this.  He came to therapy because he was having panic attacks.  One of the first things that his therapist observed about John was that he was very tense.  He had deep frown marks between his eyes, and the muscles in his face and throughout his body were tight.  He had frequent gastrointestinal problems, asthma, insomnia, and joint pain, none of which his specialists were able to regulate with medication.  Even though John said he never got angry, he looked angry most of the time. And, it was apparent to his therapist (and most people who knew him) that he had been angry for many years, but he wasn't aware of it.  He was defended against it, on an unconscious level, because he felt it was "bad" to be angry.  Over time, as John developed trust in his therapist, he became more open to exploring his anger.  As he worked through his anger, most of his physical symptoms, which were psychophysiological in origin, disappeared.  It was apparent that, because his anger was so unconscious, he carried it in his body--until the unconscious (in this case, his anger) became conscious.

Mary:
Mary's parents were emotionally neglectful when she was growing up.  They provided her with a home, food clothing and basic necessities, but they were emotionallly unavailable to her.  She began therapy in her early 40s, because she was feeling depressed.  Her initial attitude in therapy, which was unconscious, was that, "My therapist should make me better."  She had no awareness that her attitude stemmed from a childhood of emotional neglect and the "inner child" part of her wanted the therapist to be a mother to her.  When this didn't occur, Mary became enraged.  She almost left therapy several times because she couldn't tolerate that her therapist couldn't make her better.  She refused to do any of the work and she all but stamped her foot to demand that her therapist do the therapy work for her.   Fortunately, even though it was difficult for her, she was able to tolerate being in therapy long enough to discover her unconscious wish to have the therapist mother her as if she were a baby.  After doing "inner child" work with her therapist, with assistance from her therapist, she learned to nurture her "inner child" and her  attitude changed to one of a mature woman.  If she had not stuck it out in therapy, the unconscious would not have become conscious for her, and she probably wouldn't have changed.


Making the unconscious conscious is one aspect of therapy, but it's an important one.  It's not always easy to face, but change is often not easy.  Until we're willing to discover and explore our unconscious attitudes, meaningful transformation remains elusive.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.



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