Defenses: Acting Out

Here is a snippet from our Clinical Camp!

 Acting Out

Acting Out is a term often used by parents or teachers to mean misbehaving. However, for psychodynamic therapists this is a much richer concept. Psychodynamic therapists believe all behaviors have meaning AND that unwanted thoughts and feelings which are unresolved will find expression through unconscious means.   Thus, acting out means that unresolved thoughts and/or feelings are being expressed in some way – however- this is outside of the awareness of the actor! For example, a person who feels she is guilty over some perceived misdeed may conduct herself in a way that results in her getting into trouble (sometimes repeatedly). This way, the guilty feeling can be somewhat satisfied by being punished over and over. Since the original ‘misdeed’ is never dealt with, she is unconsciously compelled to repeatedly get herself into a position of being punished.  Acting out is a defense in that the problematic thought or feeling does not gain conscious acknowledgment, but finds expression in behavior (outside of the person’s awareness!).  One clear example is the ‘Freudian Slip’ in which a person says something which is really on her mind, without any conscious awareness she is about to do so (revealing some true and often problematic thoughts or feelings).

Development – everyone at once!

We used to think that people were ‘done cooking’ at 18 years old.  Since they were adults, they ‘must’ be completely developed.  In recent years we have come to understand that the brain is still in development until our mid-20s.  Also, since our society has become more complicated, we have extended our concept of adolescence until well into the twenties.

However, have you ever thought about your parents, for example?  Are they fully developed?  Many theories of developmental psychology hold that we all are ‘in development.’  What it means to be a person who is 25 years old is very different from what it means to be a person at 40 or 50 years old.

In a family, for example, everyone – parents or guardians, children, grandparents, etc are all changing with new situations.  Let’s say you are a high school senior, you are going off to college, and you are the youngest sibling.  Not only is this a huge accomplishment for you, but this has meaning for your parents or guardians (and all of the family members).  Now, for example, your moms are alone in the house.  Perhaps they have not been alone as a couple for nearly 20 years.  The fact of your no longer being a ‘high school kid’ signals also that each parent no longer has a young child.  What does this mean for each of them?  How do they restructure their time now that there are no children in the home?  Just as graduating has meaning for you, so does it for every member of your family.  We are all growing and changing with new ages, new developmental milestones or developmental tasks.

SF Clinical Camp 2014

We introduced SF Clinical Camp last year to fill a void – allowing motivated, bright teenagers to learn more about themselves and the world.  This is NOT treatment, but rather a fun and educational experience for teens.  We learn about Freud; subjectivity and defenses (and how defenses impact our subjective sense of self).  We learn about dreams and slips of the tongue.  We also learn about culture, the impact of culture on the individual and the family; about individual and family developmental models.  We finished up with a pretty sophisticated look at one possible psychological function of Facebook.

This year we have an added bonus!  The Chair of the Psychology Department at SFSU has agreed to speak to our campers about research in psychology.  Moreover, interested campers will have an opportunity to participate in research (with their guardian’s permission), and to learn about any study in which they participate.  Lastly, campers can apply to become members of the Society for Research on Adolescence!

This is a very exciting new development for SF Clinical Camp.  Campers are not required to participate in research.  However, it is exciting to have this as an opportunity!