Having lived unconsciously and then beginning, as Lawrence says, to hear rumblings from the unconscious, we may wonder:
How does a psychotherapist help the patient get in touch with such unconscious content?
In an atmosphere of acceptance and empathy, there will be an encouragement by the therapist to free associate.
This means that the patient is urged to express whatever comes into their mind, whatever thoughts, fantasies and feelings emerge, in as uncensored a way as possible.
“Control of consciousness determines the quality of life.”
The Importance of Dreams
The Dream. Picasso. (Image: Fort Green Focus. Flickr.)
The bringing of dreams to therapy is very much encouraged. However, the therapist will not and should not interpret the dream without discovering what the symbols within it mean for the patient as an individual.
Dream interpretation without this knowledge may not be accurate. Whilst there are archetypal symbols that can have meaning for us all, one has to take care that assumptions are not made in dream interpretation.
For example, a patient I was seeing, who was anxious and depressed, dreamt he was in a forest of fast-enlarging white mushrooms, closing in on him; he felt very queasy in the dream, small and afraid. He referred to the dream as a ‘nightmare.’
‘A nightmare is a failed dream, a dream that, by not “handling” anxiety, has failed in its role as the guardian of sleep.”
-Irvin D. Yalom
When we returned to exploring this dream over some weeks, he slowly uncovered a repressed memory about eating mushrooms as a child at the very time when he was told about the death of his mother.
For him, the food had become linked with feelings of terror, shock and loss. This was his own private association with mushrooms and it cannot be generalised.
The dream made him feel anxious and was also related to a fear of losing members of his family in the present.
He was struck by the fact that he avoided mushrooms as an adult because he thought he was ‘allergic’ to them, as they always made him feel nauseous.
“Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.”
Interpretation will be used by the therapist in order to highlight unconscious meaning that may emerge from the patient’s material. These interpretations will be aimed at highlighting aspects which are relevant to the issues that the patient brings.
“Where id is, there shall ego be”
Freud’s quote refers to the three levels of human personality that he termed the id, the ego and the superego. The id resides in the unconscious and consists of primitive needs, wishes and fantasies.
The bringing of such unconscious desires and thoughts into the higher ego level, means that they can be explored, processed and moderated, which is what people hope for in psychotherapy.
Transference interpretations will be aimed at linking the patient’s thoughts, feelings and fantasies about the therapist with past experience and with present feelings and behaviour outside the therapy.
For example, in drawing attention to the symbol of mushrooms in the above patient’s dream, I was able ultimately to make an interpretation which linked past, present and the here-and-now transference feelings in the room towards me as therapist:
“It seems as though the mushrooms understandably became associated with your fear of losing important figures in your life. You have recently realised that you are afraid that your wife will develop a terminal disease; you also seem very fearful that I may not survive the whole of the therapy with you.”
The aim of such an interpretation is to help the patient become aware of unconscious content that might lie behind his symptoms.
“Where id is, there shall ego be”
People are often fearful of the unconscious and of what might be revealed from the depths of their psyche.
“We have been to the moon, we have charted the depths of the ocean and the heart of the atom, but we have a fear of looking inward to ourselves because we sense that is where all the contradictions flow together.”
“Much of the evil in this world is due to the fact that man, in general, is hopelessly unconscious.”
― C.G. Jung
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”
However, once we have risked facing our own pain and darkness, there is often a greater sense of freedom and an increased feeling of well-being.
Living more consciously gives us a greater awareness of ourselves and others around us and of the grace and beauty in the world.
The results can be life-changing.
What do you feel can be gained from living more consciously?
Do leave your comments below.
“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
The only true aristocracy is that of consciousness.