The True Self Project

THE TSP Program

Jonathon Shedler, PhD. has spent much of his career researching the efficacy of psychodynamic thought and therapy. He has found that this therapy is as effective as other therapies. More importantly, he has found that not only are there mental health gains made, but there is continuous improvement over time, even after the termination of therapy.


According to Shedler, Blagys and Hilsenroth (2000) identified seven basic features that “reliably distinguish psychodynamic therapy from other therapies” (Shedler 2010).


The True Self Project (TSP) has all seven of these features.


1 . Focus on Affect and Expression of Emotion

TSP focuses on affect and expression of emotion through creative expression (making art, moving the body, writing, etc.) and group process (expressing to each other) because we believe: “The motivating force of all thought and values are based on emotions” (Jaak Panksepp, PhD). Exploration of avoidance of distressing thoughts and feelings. TSP participants regularly discuss that patterns of thought, emotions and behavior were created as protective measures related to the experience of developmental trauma. The protective False Self was built to defend the True Self from ever being hurt again. The driving force of these False Self patterns was the desire to love and be loved. Many of the False Self patterns involve avoiding feeling and expressing true emotional pain.


2 . Identifying Recurring Themes

The False Self contains reoccurring thoughts, emotions and behaviors that developed to cope with painful developmental trauma. TSP invites participants to enquire when, where, and with whom patterns emerged and how these patterns affect the present. Participants examine the reoccurring themes of the False Self in their art.


3 . Discussion of the Past

The main philosophical underpinning of TSP is Attachment Theory, and this theory always drives us to trace our patterns back to past developmental trauma in an effort to understand our current situations and make change. In TSP we explore the past (developmental trauma) in a group setting and through the art. We believe that in developmental trauma parents are:

  • frightened of the child
  • frightening to the child or
  • dissociated/ withdrawn from the child.

To the child it seems the parent is preoccupied with his/her self, which breaks healthy inter-subjectivity (back and forth relationship between two conscious minds) and excludes the child from the relationship, which causes great pain to the child. This pain lives not only in the mind but also the body. It is bio-behavioral.


4 . Focus on Interpersonal Relationship

TSP engages everyone in a group setting. Individual attachment strategies are explored, explained and re-evaluated. This helps reduce stigma and invites self-evaluation through reciprocity. Subjectivity, inter-subjectivity and reciprocity inform the process of interacting with others.


5 . Focus on Therapy Relationship

TSP is done in a group setting, and the transference and projections between group members are openly discussed. A trained therapist facilitates the group. Profound relationships develop between the group members. Group members: challenge each other’s assumptions and False Self behaviors, develop and practice reciprocity in relationship, and support each other in True Self behaviors. The group process facilitates the development of self-knowledge and self-expression, of being seen, heard, understood, accepted and valued by the group members.


6. Exploration of Fantasy Life

TSP supports curiosity and intrapsychological work through the actual creation of concrete palpable symbols of: ones True Self, False (protective) Self and personal pain. In making art the unconscious fantasies are explored and concretized. The art represents subjective, visceral experiences of the past. In making their art, explaining the art to the group, and being valued by the group, the artist brings these experiences into awareness where the conscious mind can explore how these fantasies motivate behavior and the artist can explore how to react to these fantasies in the present.


My True Self is the background of my exisitence. It was held by me in my Blankie. Always there, always a comfort, always safe. It was taken from me as one of the traumas of my hospital stay when I was seven. I have knit a new blanket that holds the qualities of the original. The warmth, the feel, the smell, the color, the slippery binding. A sensory experience of all that I am. The True Self. Alive, soft, caring, creative, flexible, engaging, loving, brilliant, joyful, and grateful!

Excerpt from TSP exhibit catalog

Copyright © 2021 True Self Project. No part of this website my be copied without permission.

 The True Self Project is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. Our email address is

The True Self Project


True Self Project

TheTrue Self Project