Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hello Subconscious! Pull Up A Chair and Let's Have a Chat!

The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes the subconscious as "existing in the mind, but not immediately available to the conscious." Sigmund Freud used the term subconscious and unconscious interchangeably, though he meant it to be the part of our mind that we're not aware of. At times, I have described it as the part of our mind that is running everything in the background. It may be made up of our personal experiences, our culture, our perceptions of the world around us, our emotions at times, and many more things. It may include even the parts of our environment that we are not paying attention to (i.e. sounds, smells, etc.). I wonder at times what would happen if our subconscious was able to slip fully into our conscious. What might we be aware of? I imagine sitting with a client who is comfortably on my office couch (as comfortable as it could be--it's kind of worn-out). I tell them that in order to proceed with therapy, we must look into their subconscious and that I have invented a machine that can open it up like a computer file and project it all onto a screen in front of them. The purpose is to discover everything about them that they cannot remember and the things that they might not even want to know; and that by opening everything up, they can learn to accept and/or reject things about their beliefs, culture, values, cognitive processes, emotional responses, and behaviors that do not fit into the person they wish they were, or think they are. Therefore, after receiving their written consent and reviewing the possible discomforts they might encounter (of course, I use an informed consent as I am an ethical clinician), I press the tell-tale button on my desk and there is a whirring sound that slowly crescendoes as the machine (use your imagination) begins to open up their mind and project it onto the screen. The machine interprets the subconscious and separates the scenes and words into subtypes so that the screen shoes a series of files. They might be separated into childhood stages (this is psychology after all), ages, or maybe even into emotional responses such as "happy memories," "shame-based memories" or something along those lines. At first the client might want to review memories he/she doesn't remember. The images might be of early infancy and childhood. Those memories that very few of us have due to a lack of awareness, or whatever reason our minds don't hold on to them. Many of these memories might come out as a "Aaaawww, that is cute" or "Wow, I didn't know that happened." Some memories might bring up positive emotions and others might bring on feelings of shame. After a few minutes of nostalgic reflection, it's time to do some work. I might say to the client, "Well, it looks like the technology is in-sync with your neural net (sounds Star Trek-like, doesn't it?), we can proceed with the reason you came to counseling." I then review the things the client said in the intake interview, which usually aren't happy. I mean, who hires a therapist when life is going great? Let's say that this client had one or several difficult experiences that they cannot get out of their mind, or that replay over and over in their dreams, when they're awake, or they replay them behaviorally. They can't quite figure out why, either. So, I ask the client, "If we could classify all of these things you're struggling with, what work or set of words would you use to describe them?" The client takes a moment and responds "Ashamed" or "Weak" or "Scared." Again, these are just words, but they mean something to him/her. So, I review the files and pull up all information on those words along with any associations. I then say, "Well, if you'll remember, we already went over how to breathe and calm your emotions when they feel too strong. We will use those, now. We will move at your pace. Are you ready?" The client pauses and responds that he/she is. "Okay, here we go." At this point, I am not going to impose my ideas on how it would go, necessarily. I can't predict with perfect accuracy and experience with clients has demonstrated that my predictions can be wrong. The reader's guess is as good as mine that the emotional response will not be one of comfort and warmth. However, at the end of the review, I would then say to the client that we are not quite done, yet. I would tell them that they did great and commend them for their courage. Then, I would say that we had only reviewed the memories, but that the subconscious part of him/her was not present. I would open then point to a toggle on the underside of my desk and explain that when I flip the toggle, their subconscious will appear and tell them what all of the memories mean. What the client believes the memories say about themselves. How it affects their worldview, and how it has affected their belief in their own value and self-worth. Personally, I think this is the scariest part, and yet the most important. The memories may be painful, but it's how they changed the person that results in continued pain. Again, with their permission, I flip the toggle and there is the sound of static (or maybe the sound that the Transporter makes on The Starship Enterprise--I don't know), and seated next to them appears their subconscious. At first, it is somewhat surprising. Maybe the subconscious looks just like the client, or maybe not. Maybe it takes the appearance of a wise old Chinese Man sitting lotus style. I can only guess. At that point, the client and subconscious begin to talk and the subconscious speaks to him/her about the "truth" they believe in as a result of their bad experiences--maybe even about the client's own decisions/choices that were affected by the bad experiences. Everything is laid open and naked in its raw and primal form. My guess is that there would be some tears. There might even be some yelling. Denial might occur along with depression, anger, bargaining and finally acceptance. At the end of it, I wonder if the client would feel exhausted, but at peace. Of course, this is just my ramblings while sitting in my office. However, I wonder how we might respond if our subconscious sat down for a while. Would we accept it, or reject it? You can decide, I suppose.