The unconscious is not a mysterious thing. For example, you have probably met people who seem to annoy you, and make you angry, but you cannot work out why. It may be that this person reminds you of someone but you do not realise it. The person whom he or she reminds you of is someone with whom you are angry, so you find yourself taking it out on the person at hand. Unless you remember who you really are angry at, it can be hard to get over your feelings of annoyance. In this case, becoming aware of what is unconscious involves remembering and recognising the difference between these two people. Sometimes it can take an awful lot of work to find this out.
When we are not aware of the reason for a strong feeling like this, a therapist might say this is unconscious. By becoming aware of the reasons for our anger with someone, we can treat him or her on a more realistic basis. It is the therapist’s job to help you recognise when the feelings you have towards someone seem to be inappropriate and to learn to understand the real causes.
When you start treatment, you will find that some of the people closest to you, who have encouraged you to get help may change their minds and decide that therapy is not helping you. This is often an indication that you are changing and that these changes are puzzling and trouble some of those close to you. You should know that almost always in treatment some of the people around you will be convinced that you are getting worse – often just at the time when you feel you are really improving. And you yourself might also at times feel worse and discouraged at some stages of therapy. You might feel you are not getting anywhere, your therapist does not know what he or she is doing and there seems to be no point in this, and so on. These uncomfortable feelings are often good indications that you are working on difficult problems. It is very important that you do not give in to these temporary feelings when they come up. You will find yourself making good progress again.
What might also happen, as you talk about more difficult things, is that you may find yourself having trouble keeping your appointments. You won’t be able to get away from work, there will suddenly be necessary overtime just at the time of the appointment, your car will break down, your family will need your help at home for something, and so on. All of these things seem quite unrelated to therapy. The important point is that these problems suddenly seem to crop up at the same time you are getting down to something difficult and important in the therapy. These are the most important times to make sure you come to the therapy meetings. The only way to protect yourself is not to allow yourself to judge how important any given therapy session will be, but instead to decide beforehand that you are going to be there, no matter what comes up.
In other words, if you make an appointment, you will keep the appointment regularly. This does not mean that you cannot postpone a session for good reason, if you discuss it with your therapist beforehand. For example, if you know three or four weeks in advance that you have a business trip, and you know it is something you have to do. It is the sudden emergencies that are almost always unconsciously planned – things that come up unexpectedly.
Another thing – in treatment you will often find yourself feeling uncomfortable. For one thing, your therapist won’t say a great deal, and you will find yourself trying to make decisions about what you say. We do this all the time. If we did not, we would get ourselves into a lot of trouble. If you think your boss is an idiot and you told him or her this, you might lose your job. In general, we have to make a distinction between what we think and what we say. In treatment this is not so. In therapy you say whatever comes to your mind, even if you think it is trivial or unimportant. It does not matter. It is still important to say it. And if you think it is going to bother your therapist, that does not matter either: you should still say it. In contrast to your boss, if you think that your therapist is an idiot, you need to tell him or her about it. You will find this is very hard to do and yet it is one of the most important things to learn in therapy – to talk about whatever comes to your mind. Often what you think is trivial and unimportant is really the key to something very important. For example, you might suddenly become aware that the room is hot, or the therapist’s clothes are awful or something like that which seems both trivial and even perhaps a little rude to bring up. Yet, in treatment, if you think of it, say it. Often such things turn out to be very important. So just like the appointments, we make an absolute rule that you should not think ahead about what you will say and therefore protect yourself from facing important things. Say whatever is on your mind, no matter what.
After some time in therapy you will start to feel like you have achieved your goals and that you feel a lot better. It is best for you to discuss these feelings straight away with your therapist. It is important for you to set aside a number of sessions at the end of therapy to check your feelings before you do finish. This will help to make the ending between you and your therapist a good one. It is best if you do not suddenly leave therapy as just the act of bringing up important material and leaving it unresolved can be quite damaging. Therapy can be a wonderfully enriching experience. Remember to discuss any problems or things you do not understand with your therapist. They are there to help you.
(adapted from: 1995- Brin Grenyer, NDARC & University of Wollongong, Australia; first published by Orne & Wender 1968, American Journal of Psychiatry)