Hypnosis And The Unconscious Vs. The Subconscious Debate

When we talk about hypnosis or hypnotherapy, we often hear the terms subconscious mind or unconscious mind. It’s become clear to me that there is some degree of confusion over the meaning of the terms, and the difference between the two.

It bears clarifying where the terms came from and how and why the terminology has evolved from the Freudian term subconscious mind which society naturally adopted, to the more indicative term unconscious mind.

In actual fact, in the context of hypnosis, the two terms refer to precisely the same thing, it’s just a matter of which term more appropriately describes the state of being. I am of the opinion that unconscious is the more appropriate choice of word.


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Some feel more strongly about it than me. I remember a couple of years ago attending a seminar on hypnosis by my friend who is a very well known hypnotist. Not long after his introduction speech he told the audience of assembled hypnotherapists “If I hear anyone refer to the unconscious mind as the subconscious mind then I will throw them out of this room”. Of course it was said with a little humour, but his point was clearly made.

I can totally understand the public’s use of the word subconscious as the Freudian term was readily adopted by society when the concept of unacknowledged mental activity was discovered. Traditional therapists have historically used the word subconscious, which in my opinion, implies a place that is somehow lessened or belittled, and undermines the power of the unconscious mind.

The prefix ‘sub” suggests something that is somehow beneath par. On the other hand, the term unconscious spells out clearly that it is in fact a part of the mind that is active without our being aware of it.

Outside of the context of hypnosis, people most commonly associate the word unconscious with the state of having completely lost consciousness, or being quite literally knocked out. This is in essence the state of being unaware. By this logic, making reference to the unconscious mind quite appropriately describes the portion of our mind of which we are unaware.

The theory that we only utilize a small part of our brain is misleading in that, we are certainly only consciously aware of what 10% of our brain is doing at any given moment, but the other 90% is certainly active, we are simply not conscious of it. So when you next hear someone say “we only use 10% of our brains”, challenge them. It’s simply not true!

Anyway, back to the point. To me, the term unconscious is more complimentary, and more effectively defines the power of this part of our mind that we aren’t consciously attentive to. To call it subconscious is to suggest that it has less significance or that it doesn’t serve us to an equivalent degree as does our conscious mind. In reality, there is cause to speculate that out unconscious mind may in fact hold greater power than that which we are aware of in our conscious state.


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