Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Hypnosis and the MYTH of the "Unconscious Mind"

Here's an experiment you can perform yourself. Call up a college or university near you and ask to speak to somebody who teaches in the psychology department. Ask them about the existence of the "unconscious mind" in light of current research on brain structure and see what they have to say.  Or, if you prefer, you can call up the biology department and ask them the same thing. Professors from both of these departments will tell you that in view of our current understanding of the structure of the brain, the notion of a separate "unconscious mind" is at best a crude approximation which only sounds logical because it is circular. If we see two people fighting, for example, we say that it's because they're angry. Why do we think that they are  angry?  Because they're fighting! Why do hypnotized people so frequently experience a trance? Because hypnotic suggestions bypass the censor of the conscious mind. Why is there such a thing as a "conscious mind" which  has such a censor? Because this is how hypnotized.people behave!

Wouldn't it  be easier to simply say that you can reframe yours perception of reality using the power of suggestion, without having to infer the existence of two separate minds, one conscious and the other unconscious, each one operating according to different principles and constantly scheming against each other?  How and why could such a contraption possibly have come into existence, either by creation or by evolution?

Of course, we are able to do a number of things without the direct supervision of our  conscious awareness. We do have the ability to make some actions as automatic and habitual as possible without having to attend to each separate detail, as is the case when we are able to drive from one end of town to the other, stopping at each red light and alternately braking and accelerating to keep up with the flow of traffic without consciously planning each movement in advance. In extreme cases, this can take the form of dissociative reactions such as amnesia, fugue, or dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), in which  conflicts are split off from conscious attention because they have become too painful for our attention  to bear  For example, one client who is a genuine multiple has shown me printouts from a Web site operated for people diagnosed as having DID. Although there may be only ten to twenty people who actually belonged to this site, the actual number of members was over two hundred, because each personality was given a name and allowed to register and post entries separately, sometimes arguing or disagreeing with the other personalities with whom they shared a common physical body.  She informed me that the site was very secretive, and operated like a cult. Its "members" were generally opposed to psychotherapy, because their separate personalities do not want to be integrated.  Indeed, they were inclined to view any therapist who attempted such integration as a potential executioner! My client reports that she was blocked from membership because, in her efforts to collect information about this site, the administrators began to suspect that she was an "informant." The site was subsequently closed, and many of the former members organized a secret group on Facebook.

The reasons for this splitting can be readily understood in terms of a person's ongoing conflicts, without reference to a separate "unconscious mind" lurking somewhere beyond the bounds of everyday awareness. In fact, it is possible to create an artificially induced dissociation in which two or more ego states talk to each other, merely by suggesting it. I would never want to discourage my friends from using such a technique, for it can still be a valuable tool in the practice of hypnotherapy. 

What, then, is hypnosis. if it is not a means of bypassing the conscous mind and speaking directly to the unconscious? There are so many ways to hypnotize people that entire books have been written on this subject, and more ways are being devised all the time -- so many, in fact, that it is easy to see that the only thing which they have in common is the actualization of the suggestion that one's conscious processes are beginning to operate differently, as defined by the suggestions of the hypnotist and the prevailing expectations of the culture and the participant.

I prefer to use the term multiversal meditation instead of the term hypnosis, because it enables me to employ the concepts of modern physics instead of the outdated ansociaations with sleep, which contemporary brain research has now completely disxredited. The brain waves which characterize a state of sleep are totally lacking when a person  is simply responding to the expressed or implied suggestion that one is in a state of hyonosis. And the only person who is really able give you scientific, research-based information about the nature and properties of the "unconscious mind" is an anesthetist!