Unconscious or conscious mind. Which is in charge?
It’s long been known that the unconscious has an important part to play in therapy.
Some psychotherapies focus attention on the conscious mind, and the unconscious gets overlooked. Some approaches focus on past emotional events, revisiting them in order to relieve emotional symptoms.
However, this can reinforce the emotional event in the brain. By revisiting the event; we give it more attention; the brain thinks attributes it higher importance; and we remember it more often. For past emotional events that are distressing we actually want the opposite to take place.
The conscious and unconscious mind
Conscious and unconscious can be understood in relation to the iceberg metaphor.
This is where the conscious mind represents the mass submerged below water, with the unconscious of about 10%, above the surface.
Actually the conscious is probably smaller than this, imagine an apple tree, where one solitary apple represents the conscious mind, and the remaining is the unconscious.
We have three individual brains, that have evolved over billions of years.
The first brain is the reptilian brain, this one is involved in fear, flight or fight. It also underpins sexual attraction.
The second brain is known as the mammalian brain. This is dominant in mammals. The limbic brain contains the hippo-campus, which is seahorse shaped. The hippo-campus acts as a processing centre, which acquires information from our five senses and decides whether something is a threat or not.
If it’s a threat it sends an activation message to the amygdala, which controls our fight or flight or stress response.
The third brain, the newest one, is the neocortex which is responsible for speech, writing, creativity and high-order thinking. It’s suggested the neocortex is only around 20,000 years old, but we’ve only really starting using it in the last 7000 years.
Our old brains perceive the world as a frightening place, filled with rivals competing for the same scarce resources. What matters most is our survival, and we’re always ready to fight or flight. The new brain, however, understands that we do not need to live in a continuous state of threat and should remain where we are.
The conflict between the old and new brain can create conflict in modern day society. We can misinterpret our environment as threatening; when it’s actually not. Taking an exam, speaking in public, a disrupted sleep pattern, work pressure, are all examples of threats that trigger this flight or flight response.
The interesting thing is that the unconscious exists across all three brains, but not in any physical form, we can’t see it and don’t fully understand how it works. It can be argued that the unconscious doesn’t actually exist, it’s just a linguistic representation that we use to describe something going on in the brain, that we don’t fully understand.
Neuroscience and the mind
Modern day neuroscience is an exciting area of research, with more and more trials being conducted. Studies have shown, for example, that a sugar pill can be as effective as morphine in 56 percent of people. We label this the placebo effect; an area of exciting new research.The placebo effect and psychological wellness are the result of tapping into the healing potential of the mind.
We are familiar with psychological disease more so than psychological health. We know we can worry ourselves sick, and we can laugh ourselves to health. These things take place outside of our conscious awareness, in our unconscious.
Hypnosis works by making changes in the unconscious mind, through using various trance states to elicit change.
The unconscious mind is the ‘automatic pilot’, it ensures that you continue to do the things in the present that you learned in the past. The problem is, sometimes we want to change the things we have learned.
This is where Cognitive Hypnotherapy can help.
Further reading about the Unconscious can be found here