NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Why is the Psychotherapist's Empathic Attunement to a Client's Unconscious Communication So Important in Therapy?

When there is a strong sense of empathic attunement between the therapist and client, when feelings are unspoken and communicated without words.  Feelings can be communicated unconsciously (see my article: Why is Empathy So Important in Psychotherapy?).

A Psychotherapist's Empathic Attunement to Unconscious Communication

Sensing Unconscious Communication
A skilled therapist, who is trained in psychodynamic psychotherapy, can often pick up on a client's unconscious communication during a therapy session.  It often goes the other way too, where an intuitive client can pick up on what is unconsciously being communicated by the therapist.

In fact, at various times, we all pick up on what is unconscious and unspoken in our daily lives, especially with people who are close to us.  Sometimes we're more aware of it than others.

The Psychotherapy Session as a Unique Time and Place For Unconscious Communication
The psychotherapy session is a unique place where a special time is designated on a weekly basis for the therapist and the client to meet to focus on the client's emotional needs.  

There are no interruptions or distractions, so this creates an especially good environment for the therapist to pick up on unconscious communication if she works with unconscious process.

There are times when a therapist might ask about what she senses with the client on an unconscious level because she thinks it would help their work together.  Then, there are other times when she might not because it would be premature and would not serve their work.

As a therapist, I find that it's usually best to ask the client rather than to tell him or her what I might be sensing on the unconscious level for several reasons:
  • First, I could be completely wrong in what I think I'm sensing.  
  • Second, I might be correct, but the client might not be ready to talk about it.  
  • Third, by being somewhat tentative in discussing possible unconscious communication, it allows clients the freedom to reflect on it in their own way rather than imposing my view.
Often, if the therapist is emotionally attuned and the timing is right, talking about what is being unconsciously communicated by the client can open up new areas to be explored in the therapy.

An Example of the Therapist's Empathic Attunement to Unconscious Communication in the Therapy Session
It's not unusual for clients to experience feelings of abandonment when their therapist plans to be away.  These are often unconscious feelings.

Clients, who had behave like adults when they were children, are very good at hiding fear of abandonment. They had a lot of practice as children pretending that they were okay when they really weren't (see my article: Unresolved Childhood Trauma).

Many clients even convinced themselves as children that they were really okay when they really weren't.  So, pretending to be okay to themselves as well as others when they're not comes naturally to them.  They don't even need to think about it.

If the therapist is attuned to a client and also knows the client's history, the therapist can often sense the client's unconscious feelings of abandonment before the therapist goes away.  

It's important for the therapist to be as tactful as possible, especially for clients with unresolved trauma.

If the therapist doesn't use tact and good timing, clients might feel ashamed of their feelings, as they might have when they were children when they were expected to be more mature for their age and psychological development at the time.

But if the therapist is tactful and helps clients to understand that many clients experience similar feelings, especially if they had childhood trauma where they were abandoned emotionally, then it can be a relief to clients. This usually makes discussing what has been communicated unconsciously more meaningful to them.

How Does a Therapist Sense the Client's Unconscious Communication?
Not all therapists work with the unconscious.  For instance, a therapist who is strictly a cognitive behavioral therapist often will not deal with the unconscious mind.  

But assuming that the therapist has training in psychodynamic psychotherapy and is skilled in  detecting unconscious communication, she has different ways she might sense unconscious communication from the client.

For instance, as a psychotherapist who was originally trained in psychodynamic psychotherapy, I often sense physically or emotionally what the client is feeling.  

It's often a visceral feeling for me.  Other times, it's a thought.  Or, I might have a particular song playing in my mind and the words or tune are relevant to what's happening with the client.  

A picture might also flash in my mind's eye that is relevant to my interaction with the client during his or her session.  Then, it 's a matter of whether or not to communicate it to the client and, if so, how.

The Therapist's Attunement Can Be Emotionally Reparative For the Client
The therapist's attunement is usually emotionally reparative experience for clients, especially if they grew up with adults who weren't emotionally attuned to them when they were children.

As previously mentioned, therapists make mistakes at times.  When a therapist makes a mistake with regard to emotional attunement, it's important for the therapist to acknowledge this to the client (see my article: Psychotherapy: Ruptures and Repairs Between You and Your Therapist).

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT,  Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist. 

I work with individual adults and couples.

As an Experiential Psychotherapist, who is trained in psychodynamic psychotherapy,  I value clients' unconscious communication.

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.