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Counselling Twickenham & Whitton

The Unconscious Mind

Freud (1918) described the unconscious as the reservoir of primal instincts, drives and emotions that lie outside of conscious awareness. It is a dark realm of irresistible urges and desires – where Eros provides our sexual drive and creativity; while Thanatos, the death instinct, is the driving force behind our most destructive impulses. The unconscious, though hidden, remains a powerful influence on our behaviour and experience. It is the dynamic force behind conflict and change in our lives, but provides neither comfort, nor consolation.

Most of these unconscious dynamics are deeply unpleasant and unacceptable to the conscious mind – including feelings of pain, anger, guilt and grief which we find difficult to tolerate. These are then split off from the conscious Self and buried in the deep in the subconscious and internalised as a bad object (M. Klein, 1935). For example emotional pain and trauma threaten our individual survival, so we tend to hide these feelings rather than let them overwhelm us. We split off shadowy emotions from conscious awareness and they manifest themselves as internal conflicts in the psyche. But whilst feelings of rage, hatred, anxiety and loss may lie dormant for a long time, they are never far from the surface. They make themselves known in sudden outbursts of emotion, terrifying fantasies or acts of uncontrollable rage or overwhelming anxiety.

This makes all human beings susceptible. But counselling can help.

At Counselling Twickenham (Twickenham Counselling), one of the things we will explore together in therapy is the interplay between your conscious and unconscious mind. The dynamics between the two may cause internal conflicts, or distortions in the way you process thoughts and emotions. They may trigger the dark impulses behind repetitive patterns of behaviour and destructive acts of self-sabotage. With the conscious mind, I will encourage you to become more reflective and self-aware; being mindful of your own thought processes, reflections and experiences so that you can make better sense of your life.

However, with regard to the unconscious mind we will explore your inner conflicts and unexpressed emotions to more easily understand why they have become so entrenched. Or we may interpret the meaning of fantasies, dreams and memories to see what they reveal about your underlying desires and motivations, which have caused conflicting feelings (C. G. Jung, 1921). You may be aware of repetitive patterns of attachment in relationships without knowing why. Or you may be in the grip of intense anxiety, panic and depression, but feel helpless when it comes to managing your innermost fears and behaviours. Often what we find is that the dynamics of the subconscious mind remain hidden from conscious awareness and can be made sense of through careful interpretation and understanding. The process of therapy is therefore a way of gaining insight into the mind and may offer us an opportunity to make different choices in life.

Although, the unconscious can be a powerful, shadowy realm, there is nothing to fear from self-discovery. The purpose of encountering the unconscious in therapy is to uncover the layers of awareness that lie beneath the surface. This process is something we will achieve together through a developing process of trust, mutual respect and collaboration. Not by imposing labels on you, or diagnosing the symptoms of psychological disorder.

At Counselling Twickenham (Twickenham Counselling) it will be like embarking on a journey into the psyche, or excavating through the layers of an archaeological dig. Whatever we discover there should enable you to reclaim a sense of meaning and direction in your life. It will help you manage your own affairs with confidence by trusting your instincts and paying attention to your emotional and psychological needs. Ultimately it involves taking back responsibility to find your own way forward.

If you are seeking therapy at Counselling Twickenham, you may feel conflicted between your ego's self-needs of being idealised, mirrored and empathised with in relationships (H. Kohut, 1971). You may notice a fear of being trapped, or feeling ruled by ingrained patterns of behaviour. Perhaps your relationships are unfulfilling or you are experiencing conflict. You may feel overwhelmed by grief, anger, loss and depression; or recently suffered a trauma which gives rise to anxiety, panic or phobias.

We all have moments of crisis in our lives when we feel overwhelmed or traumatised. This is normal. It is part of being human. It is not a failing or a weakness. Human vulnerability is part of our strength. Acknowledging and accepting our vulnerability is a way of learning to adapt and evolving to meet the obstacles in our environment. But when these emotions become unmanageable or seem to rule your life you may wish to seek help with counselling.

Counselling Twickenham | Enduring Mind | Twickenham Counselling

Some examples of working with the unconscious in counselling:

  • Transference
  • Free Association
  • Dreamwork
  • Creative Therapy
  • Guided Meditation
  • Insight & Interpretation
  • Experiential Work
  • Transitional Objects
  • Emotional Attunement (Regulation)
  • Rupture & Repair


At Counselling Twickenham (Twickenham Counselling) I work with:

Transference (S. Freud, 1915) – is the therapeutic technique whereby the client brings a pattern of relating from the past (e.g. from childhood) and transfers this unconsciously onto the therapist- e.g. the client has been frustrated by authority figures in childhood; and out of his or her awareness notices they are becoming frustrated and angry with the counsellor. This is interpreted as projecting the past into the present. It is then brought to the client’s awareness so they can gain an understanding of why they act out repetitive patterns of behaviour in everyday relationships.

Free Association (S. Freud, 1912) – is the practice whereby the client explores his/her stream of consciousness without constraint or narrative structure, so that the client’s spontaneous feelings and impulses emerge into consciousness – e.g. the client recounts aloud the uninterrupted flow of consciousness in his/her head without feelings of resistance, shame or anxiety. This is a little bit like playing the word association game. There is no attempt to explain or judge these spontaneous outpourings, but merely observe and experience them through a process of reflection. It is designed to spontaneously uncover lost and long-buried memories, before the client can conceal them again through careful self-censorship.

Dreamwork (C. G. Jung, 1921) – is the technique for exploring the imagery and symbolism in dreams to help make sense and meaning out of the inner conflicts the client experiences in his unconscious. Dreams are believed to be the source of internal conflict and unconscious symbolism. It is through the careful interpretation of these dream symbols that clients are made more aware of the contents of their unconscious mind.

Creative Therapy – is the way in which clients are encouraged by the therapist to explore all their creative abilities – e.g. music, art, poetry, dance or role-play – to rediscover confidence in themselves or reawaken an awareness of their five senses, their physical sensations and inner emotional life. This allows clients to explore threatening or negative thought processes and self-regulate their emotions.

Guided Meditation – is the way clients are guided through a series of psychic inner journeys to places of potential trauma, conflict or pain; whilst being slowly encouraged to overcome their struggles and heal the wounds through the power of imagination.

Insight & Interpretation – is the technique of interpreting a clients’ unconscious fears and anxieties so they can gain intellectual insight and understanding into why they have developed such ingrained patterns of behaviour and emotion.

Experiential Work – to explore the client’s emerging awareness of his/her physical sensations, five senses and embodied experience so they can gain a deeper emotional understanding of themselves, rather than simply an intellectual process.

Transitional Objects (D. Winnicott, 1962) – is the technique whereby clients are able to reflect on a traumatic episode or a period of dramatic change and isolation, whilst using a transitional object with whom they share a relationship so they can manage overwhelming feelings more safely and in confidence.

Emotional Attunement (Regulation) (A. Schore, 1992) – is the therapeutic process whereby the counsellor offers the client empathy, healing and emotional containment during a shared experience of attunement throughout the counselling process. This gives the client permission to care for themselves, empathise with their struggles and find self-acceptance for both the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides to their nature.

Rupture & Repair (Caplan, 1989) – is the unconscious process whereby the client is both emotionally supported and occasionally ‘failed’ by the counsellor, during a period of emotional difficulty, so that they can gain a congruent sense of what it is like to reach out for help and receive it, as well as rely on themselves as source of emotional sustenance and stability.