WARNING: Movie spoilers included!
Purpose of the Intake Evaluation
Kylo Ren was referred to me by his previous therapist, who had chosen to end sessions after being “Force-choked” by Mr. Ren. The client told me that he sought continued services due to ongoing experiences of rage, disappointment in himself, and internal conflict about his future career and life aspirations. At our first meeting, I could sense a huge amount of emotional disarray in Mr. Ren, and suspected his violence towards his previous therapist stemmed from lack of trust and felt security. After explaining and setting firm (but caring) boundaries with him (which included the prohibition of violence, property destruction, physical control, and mental invasion), I worked to build understanding for these violent behaviors. This empathic, relationship-focused approach is a central tenent of the “Person of The Therapist” (POTT) model of therapy, a model geared specifically towards creating a safe, trusting, and intuitively helpful relationship with clients. I had a feeling this client desperately needed that, though I’m not sure he realized it.
Symptoms and Goals
Mr. Ren reported experiencing bouts of “uncontrollable rage, disgust with myself, and conflicting pulls from the Light, no matter what I do or how deeply I try to commit to the Dark Side.” I began in the first session to try to link with his experience, offering softer emotional language to help both him and me connect with his vulnerability. I checked in with myself, my own “Person”, with all my humanity, fears, mistakes, and strategies for emotional survival. I used this to help guide my questions and reflections, helping him feel my authentic connectedness as I looked for, and found, myself in him. The client told me how he had struggled with these conflicting pulls since he was a child, but “never felt supported or understood, only feared and criticized” by parents and past Masters. Meeting his most recent Master gave him a sense of being valued, someone with whom his emotions did not need to be repressed or shamed, but instead used for power.
Meeting Rey, he said, changed things again. He both feared and was fascinated by her. She neither submitted to him nor was able to dominate him. He could innately feel her emotions too, understand her thoughts. The intensity of her emotions matched his, but in a different way, a vulnerable way. Meanwhile, his Master had been shaming Mr. Ren’s recent failures, praising other officers in his service, and manipulating the client and Rey into connecting more, just to take advantage of Rey’s compassion for Mr. Ren. In the end, the client felt more loyal to Rey, who, he believed, understood him innately and chose to trust him at great risk. However, when the client betrayed his Master and asked Rey to join him to rule the galaxy, Rey left him to re-join with Master Skywalker.
I helped the client move past the description of the events into the vulnerable emotions he felt. While initially irritated by my soft questioning, he spat out the disappointment he felt, then sadly noted the hope he had had for companionship and a sense of satisfaction sharing his life with Rey, someone whom he could teach and challenge, and who could do the same for him. When I asked if Mr. Ren had ever had that closeness with someone before, he looked down, and shook his head.
The client quickly shifted back to his comfort zone, noting that these weak feelings of disappointment and confused pull towards the Light were distracting him, leading to sleepless nights, racing thoughts, frequent rageful outbursts at others, and impulsive decision-making. He stated his goal was to eliminate these weak feelings so he could establish the empire he has longed for and been promised since he was a teen, one where he is in complete control.
I could feel and understand why expectations, hopes, trust, and safety in relationships meant a lot to him; I could see the amount of pain he had been through, and how rage, power, and control had provided the greatest sense of emotional (and physical) safety over the years. I also knew that was the exact pattern leading to the conflicted emotions he was feeling now after being touched by the compassion and powerful vulnerability of this woman Rey. So the goal he wanted to set would only return him to a pattern of coping that was ineffective in the long run. Since, in the POTT model, the relationship with me would be the key conduit through which he might change, I knew I had to build his trust, even in the face of his rageful reactions.
I told him we needed to look more closely at his goal. I noted, first and foremost, that feelings cannot be “eliminated;” they simply are, and in fact, they are usually important indicators of deeper needs and values. I told him I would not help him eliminate those feelings (his face grew dark), but I would help him understand them (he looked skeptical). He demanded to know what good this would do him. I explained that those emotions are indicators of something deeper happening in him that needs to be addressed; if we eliminate the emotions, we eliminate the possibility of the deeper change that is needed at his core. His face softened, and something seemed to click for him; seeing this, I asked how this sounded to him. He looked down, but shared softly, again, about never really feeling understood, and so noted feeling like he never learned to understand himself. His parents and Masters had only told him what to DO with his emotions, not what they MEANT about him.
Noticing his own vulnerability, he shifted back to skepticism and lashed out in irritation, saying “But how will this ‘so-called understanding’ help me recommit to my path, return my focus, get me back to who I was before I met this ridiculous woman?!”. Staying tuned into myself, I felt my own irritation at the implications about myself (another “ridiculous woman” offering compassion and help), and used that to see he was afraid of trusting me. He was lashing out both to push me away, and to test whether I would stay, even if pushed. He needed to feel safe.
“I don’t think this understanding will bring you back to who you were before. But I think, if you’re honest with yourself, you know that you can’t go back to who you were before Rey.” His brows raise in surprise but agreement. “What I’m willing to help you do is understand the emotions that are coming up now, understand where they came from, and what it is about Rey that stirred them up. By knowing this, by knowing all parts of yourself, the Light and the Dark, that insight will give you the power to forge a new path, step into a new version of who you are, one that has the fulfillment and the peace of both knowing who you are, and living a life aligned with that. In so doing, your symptoms will eventually dissipate. Your parents and Masters tried to repress, control, or use you for your emotions; I want to try something new with you, build a new skill set, where we try to just be with and understand those emotions, before doing anything at all to them or about them. What do you think?”
The client’s face had gradually shifted from surprise to a flat mask, hiding his thoughts and emotions. He remained silent, appraising me in this way, for several seconds. He maintained stoney eye-contact as he said “I don’t yet understand what benefit would come from simply ‘being with’ my emotions,” sarcasm dripping from the last few words. “However, this is a new concept, very different from how I’ve been taught in the past. And the confusion of this pull to the Light is what bothers me most. If that confusion can be resolved with understanding, then fine. I will try this. For now.” We stared at each other in silence, the edge of his quiet threat settling in the room around us.
My treatment with Kylo Ren had begun.
By Mary Ingram, LMFT of Thriveworks Philadephia