Existential Psychology

Autobots And Decepticons

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Talking about the Transformers movies with kids and adolescents is an excellent way to set a positive trajectory for counseling right from the beginning. Most children have seen the movies and they can relate in an archetypal way to some of the existential themes and to traits of the main characters. The trick is to use this metaphor to help show the youth you are working with the true purpose of counseling and what human growth means.

Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons, is a classic example of an authoritarian character structure with sadistic tendencies. He demands obedience from those below him and uses intimidation, emotional abuse, and even violence to enforce it. He is highly concerned with loyalty yet he was the one responsible for the uprising and civil war on his home planet. He is destructive and relies on rationalizations for his actions to maintain psychic equilibrium, as all sadists do. His heart is twisted by his craving for power. What he really wants is subservience. He wants humans to become slaves. He wants to maintain these power imbalances forever.

Optimus Prime, the leader of the autobots, is completely different. He is concerned with truth and justice. When Megatron attempted to seize power by force Optimus and his companions fought back. It’s important to note that they did not fight back in order to maintain an unfair power structure in their society, but to protect a situation where all had the freedom to develop as unique individuals. Optimus is highly concerned with protecting humanity from the Decepticons. He does not act out of personal gain or the need for power, but instead out of a profound respect for the human condition and our need to be free. He cherishes the concepts of truth and existential freedom and seeks to protect them in others.

Decepticons and Autobots can both take the form of physical objects like cars, motorcycles, jet planes, or toasters, so identifying them is not easy. How can we always distinguish truth from lies? The answer is that we can’t, but investigating ourselves and all of the structures that surround us is a good place to start. Knowledge is essential because the Autobots and Decepticons have fundamentally different motivations for their behavior and different goals for humanity. Our client learns that one of the goals of counseling and life is to figure out which expectations and values are inhibiting mental health and which are maximizing it.

Counseling in this sort of metaphorical framework is not about eradicating problems. Instead it is the search for the truth. The quest set out before all of us is to confront life in order to develop into the fullest possible versions of ourselves. You cannot feel happy and whole unless you have had the opportunity to grow into the person you know you are deep down. There are countless blocks along the path.

That is why together we question everything during counseling. We have to find out who the Decepticons are and who the Autobots are. These might be teachers, society, politicians, a corporation, parents, television, religion, psychologists, or a part of ourselves. The list is different for every person based on unique needs, constitution, and situation. We try to honestly deconstruct any structure in a client’s life that transmits values consciously or unconsciously. This is a frightening and risky journey for a person of any age, and it is necessary that you pledge yourself to the cause of truth and justice in the counseling relationship in the same way that Optimus Prime pledges himself in the movies. Your support must be unwavering and known to be unwavering.

When kids come in with a list of problems following them they usually think that therapy is going to focus on eradicating those problems. They dread being told by yet another authority figure what they are doing wrong and how they need to change. However, in this context we are much more concerned with the conditions under which the child is trying to cope. Actually problems are proof that environmental surroundings are inadequate for existential needs. The fact that problems have arisen is quite positive because it means our client has not given up. Problems are symptoms of the conflict. If we focus on fixing the problems then we are delivering a damaging blow to healthy development and to instilling the courage necessary to face life honestly. If we focus on the path then counseling opens up into a journey of discovery that leads to increasing states of mental health and well-being.

When you think like this as a parent, teacher, or counselor you automatically begin questioning how you are transmitting values or beliefs to a child without really being aware of how they affect his or her sense of self and development. When you pledge yourself to the search for truth you tend to shine the spotlight on your own life and you grow in important ways. If you are going to use this metaphor I highly recommend that you watch the movies first and become knowledgeable about the mythology. Obviously in the search for truth you always want to be truthful, and kids can usually quickly spot when we are talking about something of theirs that we really don’t know anything about.