Neuroscientists who link their discoveries to psychotherapeutic interventions have clearly articulated that integration is the ultimate goal of any effective mental health treatment. What is this elusive integration they speak of? We are all familiar with the word integration in regard to cultural and racial diversity. It is the mingling of disparate parts into a whole that cooperates and works well together.
In many of the previous posts on this blog, you have read about the process of metabolizing childhood feelings that is the central feature of Neurodynamic Couples Therapy. Integration is the endpoint of that metabolizing process. Couples who are reliving, viscerally experiencing, naming and understanding together the emotional wounds of the past create a type of permanent growth and transformation that culminates in integration.
On the road to integration, the parts of the self that have been hidden from conscious awareness, denied and disavowed, are gradually welcomed back into a coherent self-story. The “bad” feelings, experiences, and characteristics of ourselves that have historically fostered shame get incorporated and valued as much as the “good”. Pleasure and pain are both known and accepted as part of the human condition. Losses are grieved and absorbed into the fabric of the self. Denial and idealization are no longer necessary, as the realities of our lives gradually take their place in the kaleidoscope of all that has made us who we are. There is no more wishing to undo or “repair” the past, because it has been accepted as part of the continuous story of our lives.
Neurodynamic Couples Therapy believes that couple relationships are the most natural and rapid avenue for integration. The repetitive circular arguments–i.e. recycling dramas–of intimate partners expose all of the aspects of the two individuals that are not yet integrated. Unintegrated wounds, losses, and traumas fuel the mutual emotional triggers of intimate partners that lead to unremitting conflicts. The integration mission of these conflicts is to open the right brain and initiate an opportunity for metabolizing the previously nonconscious and disavowed aspects of both partners’ self-experience. Both partners’ participation is required to set the stage for reliving these disavowed aspects, and the intervention of the therapist is needed to direct the couple’s energies toward integration instead of disintegration.
Most couples enter their relationships with the wish to redo their childhoods and avoid the feelings accompanying the permanent loss of the childhood they wanted. The integration that naturally follows the metabolizing of those feelings of loss that are laid bare during their recycling dramas eliminates this wish and frees the partners to finally enjoy the present relationship they actually have. In an integrated relationship, disagreements replace conflicts, and all aspects of both partners are understood and valued.
Integration is about embracing the fullness of the self and every one of its experiences since birth, no matter how painful. The skillful therapist guides couples toward using their co-created conflicts to become partners in integration.