Describing what is ‘unconscious’ material and how access to this material can be powerful in healing, is a real challenge. Too many explanations about the unconscious are flaky, full of magic and spells. We don’t even know if a purposeful unconscious exists at all really. It may just be a big pool of jumbling mess, the bins for all the material from which our attention was drawn away, left to compost and be reintegrated back into the neural system when it’s needed. We may only make sense of this jumbled material when it is dredged up. “Oh. there it is. Oh I wonder if there is something I can use in this?” rather than “Oh my gosh, this has come to me, it’s been sent to me from the unconscious so it must mean something.” Either way that we make sense of this unconscious material says something about who we are, or who we believe ourselves to be, or something about how we see ourselves in the world. Our interpretation of the unconscious is not random, but informed by us.
- Dreams are of our own making. Freud stated
“Obviously one must hold oneself responsible for the evil impulses of one’s dreams. In what other way can one deal with them? Unless the content of the dream rightly understood is inspired by alien spirits, it is part of my own being.” (Freud, 2010)
If this material is available in our minds, and so often has content relevant to our ordinary life, then accessing the unconscious may be about gaining access to such material in a wakened state. Although the monsters are not likely to appear in a wakened state, the feeling aroused may be evidence of an anxiety or fear that is yet unresolved.
Accessing unconscious material through art therapy is possible because the normal conscious cognitive processes are somewhat suppressed as the client enters the symbolic realm. This is especially possible if the client and the therapist enter into dialogue previously not used for the circumstance being addressed. If the client and therapist maintain an externalised dialogue, and one rich with the colours and shapes on the page, and make the known, somewhat unknown, it is as if the approach to the problem is in camouflage and the unconscious does not recognise the encroaching surveillance. As soon as the dialogue shifts back to meaning making or discussion of the problem, the unconscious is alerted. Once the unconscious is aware of the possible breach, it can quickly resort to well rehearsed psychic defences, utilising the standard blocking approaches and keeping the unhelpful patterns in place.