NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Focusing on Your Inner World to Understand How Your Unconscious Mind Affects Your Behavior

As I've mentioned in prior articles, people's behavior is often based on unconscious thoughts and feelings, so that if you want to understand yourself, a good place to start is with your unconscious mind.   Psychotherapy provides an opportunity to understand your unconscious mind and how it affects your behavior (see my articles:  Psychotherapy: Making the Unconscious ConsciousYour Unconscious Beliefs Affect Your Sense of RealityHow Psychotherapy Helps You to Expand Your Inner Awareness, and Focusing on Your Inner Self is More Effective to Overcome Shame Than Focusing on Your Outer Self).

Focusing on Your Inner World to Understand How Your Unconscious Mind Affects Your Behavior

Some people are naturally more introspective than others.  They take the time to try to understand their unconscious mind in psychotherapy by working with their psychotherapist to become aware of their underlying thoughts, feelings and dreams and how it affects their behavior.

Other people, who are naturally more outer directed, but who also want to understand the underlying issues that affect their behavior, learn in therapy how to discover the unconscious motivation for their behavior.

A skilled psychotherapist, who works with unconscious thoughts, feelings and dreams, can help clients to develop the ability to pay attention to their inner, unconscious world to understand themselves.

When you're aware of what's going on in your unconscious mind, your behavior begins to make sense.  Whereas you might not understand your behavior before you understand the underlying issues, when you've developed the ability to understand your inner world, you begin to understand that there are coherent reasons for your behavior that you weren't able to detect before.

How to Tap Into Your Unconscious Mind

Working With Dreams:
There are many ways to tap into the unconscious mind, depending upon the experience and skills of the psychotherapist.

The most traditional way is to pay attention to your dreams (see my article: Are You Fascinated By Your Dreams?).

By keeping a pad and pen near your bed before you go to sleep, you give your unconscious mind the message that you want to remember your dreams.  

In any given night, most people have 5-6 dreams.  The ones that are easiest to remember are the ones that are closest to your waking up.  

If you want to remember your dreams, upon waking up, rather than jumping out of bed or even shifting your position, remain still for a couple of minutes (shifting your position in bed makes it more likely that the dream will elude you).  

You might start by having a sense that you have had a dream.  For instance, you might still be immersed in the mood of the dream.  Or, you might remember an image or phrase from your dream.  By being patient and waiting a minute or two, the rest of the dream might unfold, usually in reverse order.

Remembering your dreams is a skill, and much like any skill, it can take time to develop.  People who are patient and take the time often remember a few dreams each morning, especially when they are in the process of writing down the dream that was closest to their waking state.  

Just like you might remember the last part of your last dream first, you will usually remember the last dream and then the one before that and the one before that in reverse order.

There are many ways to work with dreams in psychotherapy depending upon how your psychotherapist works.  

Some psychotherapists look for images or symbols in dreams that are prominent to discover the underlying meaning of the dream.

Other psychotherapists believe that every image in the dream represents a part of the client and helps clients to understand their dreams by assisting them to discover what parts of themselves are represented in the dream.

Many psychotherapists focus on the emotion on the dream:  Was the client feeling sad, happy, scared, angry, and so on, to help the client to understand the unconscious material in the dream?

Other psychotherapists work with Embodied Imagination, developed by Neo-Jungian psychoanalyst, Robert Bosnak, to work with dreams (see my article: Dreams and Embodied Imagination and Dream Incubation: Planting Seeds).

When clients are interested in working on their dreams to understand their underlying issues related to their problems, I use all of these ways of working with dreams depending upon what works best for the particular client.  Some clients have more of an affinity for working one way than another.

Working With the Mind-Body Connection
Since the body offers a window into the unconscious mind, I also use mind-body oriented psychotherapy, like clinical hypnosis, EMDR therapy, and Somatic Experiencing, to help clients to discover underlying issues (see my article: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

In clinical hypnosis, there is a technique called the Affect Bridge, which helps clients to get to unconscious issues by asking clients to use their emotions and where they feel these emotions in the body to allow unconscious material to come to the surface.

I have found the Affect Bridge to be a very good technique that often gets to unconscious thoughts, feelings and memories related to clients' problems.

Somatic Experiencing works in a similar way.  Clients learn to pay attention to their thoughts, feelings, body sensations, images or anything else that comes up for them as we are working on a problem.  

Part of EMDR Therapy, which was originally developed to help clients to overcome psychological trauma, is also now used for many other issues. For instance, EMDR therapy is also used for performance enhancement for executive, artists, performers, writers, athletes and anyone that needs help with performance enhancement.  There is a component of the EMDR therapy protocol that involves a free associative process where clients can access associative memories and unconscious thoughts and feelings.

EMDR therapy is also used adjunctively when your primary psychotherapist does not do EMDR and you see an adjunctive EMDR therapist (see my article: What is Adjunctive EMDR Therapy?).

Your inner world is a rich source of information that can help you to understand your behavior.

There are many ways to tap into your unconscious mind, including dreams and mind-body oriented types of therapy, such as clinical hypnosis, Somatic Experiencing and EMDR therapy.

In my next article, I'll provide a clinical vignette to demonstrate how focusing on your inner world can help you to understand how your unconscious mind affects your behavior (see my article: Focusing on Your Inner World to Understand How Your Unconscious Mind Affects Your Behavior: A Clinical Vignette).

Getting Help in Therapy
Without understanding your internal world, you're bound to continue to have the same problems because the root of your problem lies in the unconscious mind.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to delve beneath the surface to understand the underlying issues involved so that you can get to the root of your problems and take action to change your behavior (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

If you have been struggling unsuccessfully on your own to resolve your problems, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

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.