Psychotherapy and the Inner Child
~ Caroline Knapp
"The dog (or therapist) offers a kind of corrective emotional experience. They do resemble ideal mothers in some important respects: They are totally interested in us, totally accepting, fascinated by just about everything we do. Dogs (therapists) allow us to rewrite the childhood script..."
Healing and the Inner Child
Working with the inner children of adults is a delicate, intensive, and slow process requiring a gradual building of a respectful therapeutic alliance as well as the development of a secure and intimate attachment bond. My practice as a therapist is heavily informed both theoretically and experientially by adult attachment-based psychotherapy, object relations theory, and relational psychotherapy. All of these theories and practices understand that the adult personality and primary relational styles have been significantly impacted and shaped neurobiologically, psychologically, cognitively, and emotionally by the person's childhood experiences with parents and other significant attachment figures. The good news is that, due the person's inherent neuroplasticity and capacity for change, healing and corrective growth can be inspired by the process of healthy immersion in a developmentally facilitative therapeutic relationship.
I believe in the importance of calling up the child parts from their depths because these sub-selves are the ground zero of the original traumas, the hidden and tender core where the psychic shrapnel is embedded, and the original subsoil from which the personís sense of self was formed and wounded within damaging interpersonal relationships. I utilize aspects of many modalities to evoke the conscious experiencing and healing of the inner child selves. These modalities include, but certainly are not limited to, internal family systems therapy, Voice Dialogue, Jungian Active Imagination, gestalt therapy, and schema therapy.
Creating a relationally attuned and nurturing psychotherapeutic connection that responds accurately to unmet needs, distortions, and deficits in the internal child subparts is fundamental to a profoundly reparative therapy capable of promoting a person's gradual internalization of an abiding sense of security, stability, self-trust, and self-possession. This involves a type of limited reparenting that establishes a secure attachment to the therapist and provides empathic responsiveness to some of the adult's unmet emotional and psychological child needs. Each individual's unique temperament, personality style, aptitudes, rhythms, defenses, and developmental level of maturation must be carefully considered in the co-creation of an optimal therapeutic relationship. With long term reparenting, I have witnessed adults mature as they develop from being lost, frightened and shame filled shadows of themselves into assertive, confident and secure multidimensional people with deeply rooted self-intimacy and self-esteem. As some of these clients have voiced, both simply and profoundly after long travel in depth psychotherapy: "I am finally a real person. I understand who I am and I like who I am. I can compassionately take care of my own emotional and psychological needs now. I know that I will be ok."
~ Mark Epstein
"Winnicott wrote evocatively of what he called a young child's 'going on being,' by which he meant the uninterrupted flow of authentic self. It was this flow that I recovered, in different ways from both meditation and psychotherapy... In my life it felt more like aliveness and vitality."
Interpersonal neurobiology is an interdisciplinary field incorporating the sciences and many other branches of knowing that has increasingly been impacting the field of psychology and influencing psychotherapeutic practice. At the heart of interpersonal neurobiology is the notion of change and integration as well as a belief in neuroplasticity: the ability of the adult brain to grow new neurological links and reorganize itself in more adaptive and resilient ways conducive to a sense of wellbeing. One of the great facilitators promoting health and growth in adult brain organization is the therapeutic relationship.
Clinical research has closely examined the impact of therapeutic attunement on the embodied mind of the vulnerable client. Mindful and attuned psychotherapeutic relationships have been shown to simulate aspects of a healthy parent-child relationship, resulting in a gradual rewiring of traumatized emotional circuitry in the brain, restructuring of early attachment disruptions, and the development of new neuronal pathways relevant to experiencing trust, safety, connection, and a more integrative sense of self. The continued findings in this exciting and burgeoning new field completely supports my belief that an emphasis on relating to the "child" aspects of the adult individual's neurobiological psyche provides a more direct access to facilitating profound transformation for the whole person.
The ultimate aim of my work as a psychotherapist is the creation of a reparative relationship in which individuals can dismantle disabling defenses, heal traumatic dysregulation, learn to self-soothe, and ingest enough therapeutic attunement necessary to building a stable, richly nuanced, cohesive and authentic experience of self. This new self is slowly imbued with self-awareness, acceptance, and self-love. One of the hoped for results of all the nourishing interpersonal contact I provide is that my clients can eventually internalize and develop the psychological capacities necessary for taking over full responsibility for self-parenting of their child sub-selves. These "inner children" never really vanish or dissolve but rather grow healthy and secure, integrated within the person's evolving sense of self. They can then become embraced within the full bloom of personhood so as to revitalize the person's entire Being. Healed inner children within the self system are able to infuse the newfangled Self with remarkable depths of imagination, wonder, and effervescent aliveness.