Definition of Unconscious
As the consciousness of humankind is deemed to be our awareness, then the unconscious is defined here simply as “that which is not in our awareness”. As soon as we become aware of some aspect of ourselves, presently out of our awareness, perhaps when someone close to us (usually, if they feel brave enough) mentions how it irritates them that we always bite our lip/pick at our fingers/look absently at the heavens whenever we want to avoid the question they are posing, then we begin to accept that aspect of ourselves into consciousness and become aware that we are doing it the next time. The pattern can then be broken, as with our denials and our smirks we catch ourselves in that action and recognise the patterns that have become so evident to our loved ones, if we choose to.
It is our burden and our joy that in learning these techniques it becomes gloriously apparent to us how others are reacting and processing after initial calibration of their states and behaviours, though our own inner meanderings, procrastinations and avoidances become more cloaked to our own awareness.
That may be of course merely because we are the observer to all others, looking at the world on the outside, becoming more intrigued and focussed on environment and content, though having to cross reference our findings with our own inner network of experience. Be aware, therefore, that you will experience the innate glee of almost being able to read the minds of those around you whilst expertly denying any analyses cast on your own behaviours!
Characteristics of the Conscious and Unconscious
The mind is not one thing but a collection of interacting sub-systems of which the conscious is one The client, particularly the child client, will often be overwhelmed with guilt or shame upon the realisation of some unacceptable unconscious act, such as wetting the bed for instance. The conscious mind may be continually regretting the action and berating the self for such behaviour. It is useful to employ metaphor to describe the difference between the activities of the conscious and unconscious mind when wanting to define it succinctly for the client. When the scientific community itself still debate the intricacies of relationship between the conscious and unconscious, how do you explain the same to a five year old child? Strangely, it is the children who more readily understand and accept the concept. Whether five or 85, metaphor, consistent with their own experience, is helpful.
Metaphor Example: The conscious can be regarded as the head of a large company. The unconscious can then be regarded as the body of staff, from the Head of Product Development to Mabel the tea lady and Michael from photocopying.
The boss actually knows little of the detailed workings of the post room and how the letter outlining a proposed takeover landed on his/her desk next to the morning coffee with one sweetner and soya milk which was awaiting his arrival, or how the proposal had been copied to all heads of department ready for the 10 o’clock meeting. It just happened, the same way it always happens. Bosses need not concern themselves with how exactly things get done, when it works according to their instruction. Only when things go against their instruction does it cause concern and investigation. The boss, or conscious mind, puts forward a directive and the staff, or unconscious processes, make sure it is done.
Another example would be (especially for children) to liken the conscious mind to the captain of a ship and the unconscious to the crew. The captain puts forward a directive, like ‘full steam ahead’ and the crew scramble about dutifully in compliance. The captain need not worry about the detailed workings of the engine room as the vessel seems to do exactly as he commanded.
.A behaviour is a conscious act only when one has decided to do it, premeditated if you like. Choice is within the domain of the conscious mind. Therefore, if a child has wet the bed the question can be, did you decide you were going to do that, did you choose that last night you would not bother to get up and use the bathroom and just urinate in the bedclothes? No? Then we can suggest that the behaviour was in the unconscious mind, out of awareness, with no intervention of conscious choice, therefore it is not their fault. Once the act is sensitively brought into awareness with unconscious cooperation and communication, the situation is easily dealt with.
To continue this example further, it is important to mention here the focus on outcome. What outcome does your client want? I have had so many therapists ask me things like, “What should I do for bedwetting?” Or, “What’s your advice for bedwetting?” I ask them to tell me what the client wants, and invariably they say they are coming for bedwetting. Or, they are being brought to see a therapist because the child wets the bed and the parents are really fed up of it, or at their wits end. The therapist then descends into the intricacies of how severe this is and how it affects the family and the shame and frustration felt by all etc. “What are they coming for?” I would ask. “Bedwetting!” they would say, somewhat irritated now. “No”, I will say. “Your client is not coming to see you for bedwetting, if anything, they are coming to see you for bed drying aren’t they?” We could say here that the behaviour of bedwetting is in the unconscious mind and the desire to stop the behaviour is in the consciousness. The two must be reconciled for the solution to take place.
What we need to really understand here is that the conscious and unconscious operate and interact simultaneously. The only time this is not the case is when we are truly unconscious, for example in deep sleep. Much of the night we can spend with the consciousness playing a part from time to time, for example, hearing a noise outside and wondering what it is, then choosing to let it go, turning over and glancing at the time and falling back into deep sleep. The nearest we get to the hypnotic state or ‘trance’ is on drifting to sleep and on waking in the morning, when the unconscious is still available to us, being aware momentarily of images from a dream or allowing ourselves to imagine what we would really like to do before we get on with what has to be done.
So if we know that a problem perceived by the client is within the unconscious mind, we need to communicate with that part of the mind in order to resolve it. We know the consciousness no longer wants this behaviour/reaction to occur, else the client would not be sitting in front of you, willing to hand over cash because they want your help. So providing that is the case (being wary of all who do not fit this criteria) communication with their unconscious mind continues in earnest. Bear in mind that as soon as you engage with the client in any way, you have been picking up important information in readiness to help them as your intention as their potential therapist hones your perceptive skills.
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