In hypnotherapy we usually recognise the mind functions to work with:

  • the conscious mind
  • the subconscious mind (sometimes referred to as the unconscious mind)
  • the unconscious mind
  • The term subconscious can be used to differentiate the association with the unconscious state, which denotes being knocked out unconscious. It is good practice to use the term processes instead of mind.
  • By referring to the conscious and subconscious mind we are assuming that the mind only exists in two concrete states. We cannot prove this to be the case, so the use of the term processes is more exact.

The mind processes information either consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously.


The conscious processes of the mind contain what we are explicitly aware of at this moment in time. Everything in the conscious processing state must also exist in the subconscious state, so the conscious is limited compared with the subconscious.

  • Many compare and equate it to the tip of an iceberg, which is visible in the ocean.

The subconscious processes of the mind contain everything that we know but are not explicitly aware of at this point in time. You might not be thinking about what colour your car or your shoes are, but the information is there in your subconscious. Your subconscious stores everything you have ever experienced. However, some memories are easier to extract from your unconscious than others.

  • Many compare this to the part of the iceberg below the surface, much bigger and deeper than the tip.
  • Your subconscious contains the skills and knowledge you have learned, as well as your experiences, attitudes, habits and beliefs (subconscious mind.

The conscious and subconscious processes are what the hypnotherapist mainly works with using direct and indirect suggestions and a variety of psychotherapeutic processes.

  • The hypnotherapist can manipulate the subconscious processes in order to effect the desired change in thoughts, attitudes, behaviours, habits, beliefs and the symptoms these may express.

Another level of processing, which controls automatic functions like breathing, heart beat, etc, at a subconscious level can be referred to as the unconscious mind.



Understanding the Mind

This presentation will help you to understand how the mind processes internal and external information and stimuli which will lead to understanding how we humans express ourselves, through our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and body sensations.

The iceberg represents a visual analogy of the mind - the tip of the iceberg represents the mind at a conscious level, which is what we are aware of whilst we are awake, but below the surface the mind is much deeper and broader - beneath the surface we are consciously unaware what is taking place there.

By using a simple model we can better explain the mind to help you understand how the mind processes information. There are three basic processing functions: conscious processing; subconscious processing and unconscious processing. These three areas represents different mental functions associated with our psychological and physiological responses.

At a conscious level we are aware of the processing taking place, this is the thinking that we do whilst we are awake, the self talk that we hear in our head, our thoughts - sometimes this can be referred to as critical processing, as we use our conscious processing to analyse information – we call this thinking. There are many different types of thought processes taking place at this level.

The processing that takes place at a conscious level is limited, we are only able to process small amounts of information at any one time, maybe 7 bits give or take 2 pieces of information. It can be likened to the short-term memory of a computer and it can become overloaded very quickly, leading to confusion and dysfunction.

Below the surface of our conscious awareness is the subconscious processing, that takes place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and it is not immediately known to us. An example of this processing is our dreaming, it is one of the few times we become aware of this subconscious processing activity. All of our memories, conditioned habits, beliefs, experiences and learning are processed at this level. This processing is long-term and just like below the surface of the iceberg, it is much deeper and wider and the processing is infinite and vast.

Unconscious processing takes place without us knowing it is occurring, it is automatic, the hardwired processing within our bodies, controlled by our autonomic nervous system, which looks after us, it keeps us functioning and alive. It controls our breathing, heart rate, hormone secretion, immune response, neurotransmission, sensory perception and sensory responses. This processing is working at all times.

It is important to understand that information flows and communication takes place between these three processing functions. The conscious processing interacts with the subconscious and unconscious processing, subconscious processing interacts with the conscious and unconscious processing, unconscious processing interacts with the conscious processing and the subconscious processing. You can see this here represented through multi-level communications, demonstrating that information doesn't just take place internally between these 3 processing areas, but also these three areas respond to external information that our senses pick up.

Internal and/or external information and stimuli can be perceived and be represented at all three levels as positive, negative, helpful, unhelpful, healthy and unhealthy. External events, situations and circumstances can be perceived as positive, negative, helpful, helpful, healthy and unhealthy. Internally, our conscious thoughts can be positive, negative, unhelpful, helpful. healthy and unhealthy. At a subconscious level our habits learnings, beliefs, memories and experiences stored can be positive, negative, helpful, unhelpful, unhealthy and healthy. And at an unconscious level again our physiological responses can be positive, negative, helpful, unhelpful, healthy and unhealthy.

Human expression identifies the processing that is taking place in these three areas. Human expression is a representation of the multi-level communications taking place between these three processing areas. We express ourselves through our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviours and through our body sensations. And again this expression can be positive, negative, helpful, unhelpful, healthy and unhealthy. This expression can be internal expression or external expression. It is important to remember that the assessment processes that we use to assess one’s psychological or physiological state is through the identification and understanding this multi-level expression. We assess whether the expression is positive, negative, helpful, unhelpful, healthy or unhealthy. This also helps to identify which of these areas the expression is coming from, so that we can further identify which of these three areas we need to address therapeutically.



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