Psychotherapy and Integration

Recently a client of mine told me about an old episode of Star Trek that she happened to see. (I vaguely remember the episode from many years ago.) In the show, Captain Kirk, through a mishap in the transporter system (the one that “beams down” humans to other planets and ships), becomes split in half. There are two Captain Kirks, each diametrically opposite from one another. There is the moral, responsible, dependable Captain: The one who would command a great deal of respect and adulation. But then there is his counterpart: a more ruthless, amoral, conniving and scheming Kirk. Not someone who, one would think, would rise to such heights in the Academy. (Indeed the most recent full-length Star Trek portrays the young Kirk, not so much as a villain or evil kid, but as somewhat thoughtless, adventuresome, a little wicked).

What does this have to do with psychotherapy? A lot. The show’s creators were on to something (perhaps they had read their Freud or Jung). We are in fact comprised of many divergent parts. We all possess competing sides: moral and striving to do good, as well as more self-centered, pleasure oriented and hell bent on mayhem. Freud referred to these parts of our psyches as the super-ego (the part organized around doing what is right and good) and id (the instinctual part of oneself, geared towards pleasure). According to Freud, it is the ego that mediates between the two.

But these are not the only divergent parts of oneself. As adults, we have with us younger parts of ourselves (popularized by the concept of the ‘inner child”). Although we develop and mature, there are ways that we remain young. And there are ways that our more fragile and at times wounded selves from the past remain. It is the work of psychotherapy to integrate these different parts of our self.

If someone has been traumatized as a child, or simply gone through the usual nicks and bruises of growing up, there is a hurt part that needs to be acknowledged and responded too. All too often people come into therapy with these experiences, but having tried to the best of their ability to push them out of their consciousness. To forget. The problem, of course, is that the experiences can’t really be forgotten and ways of responding and coping to them tend to continue to the current day. For example: if someone was deeply hurt in their family of origin, they may continue to distance themselves emotionally from others just as they learned to do in their family. So our job in psychotherapy is to remember: to gain access into these earlier states of being and integrate them with the current, more adult self. In this way the person can be more whole and more comforting to that hurt part.

According to my client, in that episode of Star Trek these different parts of Kirk needed each other to survive. That in fact that wild, more primal Kirk needed the more moral man. Apparently in the end the two Kirks are hugging each other. That’s a pretty good image for illuminating a lot of the work that takes place in psychotherapy.

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