Below the Surface

Did you see the BBC Horizon documentary on “the unconscious mind” last week? I found it very disappointing. It just reinforced my negative opinion of experimental psychology: if we can’t measure it, it’s not scientific so we’ll ignore it.

The programme focused particularly on brain scans. Neuroscientists may have some idea of how the brain works but this tells you nothing about “the mind” in general or the unconscious mind (“UCM”) in particular. And how can you produce a documentary on “the unconscious” without even mentioning Freud or Jung?

To learn about the UCM we need to use introspection, excluded from academic psychology for over a hundred years. If you want to know how someone thinks – ask him. NLP provides us with a useful set of tools for this, including the study of representational systems (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic) and “parts integration”, in which we can talk to and negotiate with “parts” of the UCM.

Parts in particular, and the UCM in general, don’t have a separate physical existence, either in the brain or elsewhere. They are, in effect, metaphors – a way of looking at and dealing with the mind which works as though it exists separately.

Let’s look in more detail at this metaphorical structure of the mind.

We can think of the mind as an iceberg, of which the conscious mind is only the tip; the vast majority of the mind, the UCM, is “below the surface”. (I’ll get to the Collective Unconscious later.) The main differences between the two “minds” are:

The Conscious

The Unconscious

Can only hold up to 9 “chunks” of information Holds everything else
Is aware of now Is the storehouse of all memories
Thinks Feels
Works logically and deliberately Works intuitively and automatically
Asks “why” Knows “why”
Tries to understand a problem Knows the solution
Controls voluntary movements Controls involuntary movements

So where do Freud and Jung come in? They were both pioneers in the study of the UCM, although they had rather different opinions on what it contains. For Freud, it was primarily the repressed part of the mind, full of forgotten traumatic memories which continue to influence our behaviour. Jung’s view was that the UCM’s content is much wider, including various aspects of the self, and, in the Collective Unconscious, inherited racial memories and especially “archetypes”.

When I studied psychology, many years ago, we had several lectures on Freud, but Jung was dismissed in one sentence as “a mystic”. Although I have had no formal training in his methods I have read enough of his work to accept at least some of his ideas, and in particular I have been trained in the use of “Archetypal Parts Imagery”, which in effect is a merger of Jung’s archetypes with the NLP parts integration technique. This is a particularly versatile tool which I’ve used to help many clients.

Even the Horizon documentary acknowledged the power of the UCM, although their understanding of it wasn’t the same as mine. Hypnotherapy, NLP and some Jung’s “Analytical Psychology” are based on the idea that we can, with help or training, gain access to the memories and other resources of the unconscious mind and to make use of them to improve our lives.

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  • janet  On April 5, 2012 at 7:13 am

    As a ‘layman’ I watched the programme and picked up nuggets from it. What I feel is more disturbing though is everybody’s obssession with NLP. This collates lots of information which others have produced and then spews it out as its own! NLP has produced no experiments of its own, all its data is available from other sources – what it has done is marry all this together and produce a package. the great thing is that it invited people to think and engage with these things – but it is lead by a man who has no doctorate that I can see – if you know differently, please tell me where and when; was successful in setting up NLP but then could not use his own tools when it came crashing down on him in the 70s and is a chief protagonist in an unsolved murder case involving his drug dealing girlfriend! Look this up – you will find plenty about it. That leaves me uneasy about being manipulated – however, I find the concepts of VAK a useful tool as a way in to the thoughts and processes of reframing. if I hear ‘see what you see, hear what you hear, feel what you feel’ as a tool for enlarging my un or subcobscious (?) one mroe time, I will scream! It is too prescriptive!!
    You seem very intelligent, so i presume you have foudn other ways of putting these things! I like that you have highlighted Jung and made a difference between sub and un conscious.i am not sure I know the difference actually – can you enlighten me?
    Thank you for stimulating my early morning reading!

  • Magic of the Mind  On April 5, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Thanks, Janet. I agree that NLP is little more than a collation of previously existing techniques, but it’s a useful one. I have no interest in Richard Bandler’s personal life! Speaking personally, I found the analysis of my own thoughts during my NLP Practitioner course to be both useful and surprising, although I found several of the techniques too visual for me – I’m a word person. I’m by no means obsessed with NLP; I just use a few of the techniques which work for me.

    I never manipulate my clients using NLP or anything else. We work together as partners.

    “Subconscious” is a non-technical layman’s term. “Unconscious” is the English translation of the word used by Freud and Jung.

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