Tim Brunson DCH

Welcome to The International Hypnosis Research Institute Web site. Our intention is to support and promote the further worldwide integration of comprehensive evidence-based research and clinical hypnotherapy with mainstream mental health, medicine, and coaching. We do so by disseminating, supporting, and conducting research, providing professional level education, advocating increased level of practitioner competency, and supporting the viability and success of clinical practitioners. Although currently over 80% of our membership is comprised of mental health practitioners, we fully recognize the role, support, involvement, and needs of those in the medical and coaching fields. This site is not intended as a source of medical or psychological advice. Tim Brunson, PhD

The Subconscious Mind Fallacy Revisited



by Tim Brunson, PhD

In March 2009 I published Debunking the Subconscious Mind Fallacy. My seemingly heretical comments resulted in immediate requests for permission for redistribution of the article in newsletters circulated in North America and Europe. Additionally, a few of my close friends and highly respected colleagues have responded by writing rebuttals – some of which have appeared on this blog and in our weekly newsletter. Nevertheless, despite the notoriety, my ideas will continue to meet resistance and need further exposure if they are to move from relative obscurity and attain the level of debate warranted. Indeed, I still read and hear prominent medical, psychological, and hypnotherapy authorities touting the miraculous power of the subconscious mind without having any clue as to where the concept originated or realizing that it is totally bereft of any scientific rationale. This article is meant to continue exposing my conclusions, to clarify my original thoughts, and to at least partially assuage some of the misgivings of my detractors.

The Western origins of the concept of the subconscious mind appear to have come from two German philosophers, who lived in approximately the same timeframe. The first, Friedrich von Schiller (1759 – 1805), set forth the notion that mankind has both a formal drive and a sensuous drive. His comments come very close to describing both the popular conscious/subconscious division, as well as my contention that people may have a relatively cognitive orientation versus a limbic one. The second was the German Idealist Friedrich von Schelling (1775 – 1854), who gave us the idea that there is both a conscious or objective principle as well as an unconscious or subjective one – which, by the way, he often equated as evil. If I am correct, the latter of the two men is normally given credit for coining the term unconscious -- although Christopher Riegel, another German philosopher, is often believed to have invented the term unconscious mind. Nevertheless, the concept is largely a construct of Western philosophical thought, which was later popularized by Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), who used it to explain his theory of psychoanalysis.

The word subconscious was coined by the French psychologist Pierre Janet (1859 – 1947), who used the term loosely to mean the same as Freud's unconscious – although the latter condemned the use of Janet's term as he preferred his own. Freud thought the word was "incorrect and misleading." This is one of the very few times that I totally agree with the Austrian doctor.

Unfortunately, the word subconscious has effectively wormed its way into medical and psychotherapeutic lexicons and has even become part of New Age and self-help mantras. In some ways – especially to medical practitioners – the term has become largely synonymous with the phrase "all in the mind", which symbolizes a gap in allopathic training. That is, if you can't understand a pathology, it must be due to the patient's subconscious mind. On the other hand, psychologists and hypnotherapists (and self-help gurus) have insisted that the subconscious mind is a wonderful, all-knowing inner power that if left to its own design will cure all that ails us. Unfortunately, those that maintain that have no idea that von Schelling warned us of the evils of the subconscious mind.

During my initial training as a clinical hypnotherapist, I was informed that the subconscious mind was a vast storehouse of unlimited capacity. It was said that the client's presenting problems are due to faulty programming within that mystical ether. It was my role to clean out the rubbish and install new programming. Then there were those that told me that all I had to do was to use suggestions and imagery to prod this miraculous hidden mind and that its innate wisdom would then adjust to a homeostatic state of total wellness. It was their view that I could practice my profession with only vague and erroneous understandings as to why my methods worked. Frankly, those who continue to do this will always face a challenge becoming accepted in the wider health care arena.

These two views of the subconscious mind – views that are taught to just about every certified hypnotherapist and most psychotherapists – are in direct conflict. The same unlimited, but below conscious awareness, mind that is connected to maladies such as schizophrenia, rheumatoid arthritis, smoking, and cancer is the same entity that is supposed to miraculously – when absolutely trusted – resolve all of our problems. This conundrum is why I often question Erickson's naturalistic approach to hypnosis.

My efforts to legitimize the clinical applications of hypnosis as a scientifically sound system of (or contribution to) healing started me on the journey that has led me to strongly believe that the present usage of the term is unsupported and fails to describe the phenomena to which it relates. My review of thousands of research citations involving the use of hypnosis for medical or psychological care has left me with the conclusion that it produces favorable results – even when poorly applied – and does so regardless of the researchers' professed inability to explain why. Disturbingly, these same researchers continue to recklessly throw around the subconscious mind term with absolutely no explanation as to its neurological or physiological basis. While I welcome the results of their efforts, it appears that the underlying premise of these strictly controlled, peer-reviewed scientific studies is little more than an unfounded superstition.

So, where does this leave us? If the concept of the subconscious mind is inaccurate – and by default that of the unconscious mind is as well – then how do we account for experience of other-than-conscious awareness phenomena. It is not its existence that is in question. Rather, I question its nature and therefore how we relate to it as individuals and as clinicians. Despite the fact that the 18th century German philosophers were very insightful, our traditional view has been beset with near-mystical misconceptions and is bereft of any scientific methodology.

My conclusions emanate from a wide range of disparate fields. One on hand, I have been influenced by the German philosophers previously mentioned and by many aspects of Buddhist philosophy (e.g. Nagarjuna's Madhyamika Prasangaka school of thought). On the other, my exploration of mind/body integrative ideas together with many of the recent discussions and findings regarding histology, quantum physics, relativity, epigentics, and even artificial intelligence have presented me with some rather unique conclusions. From this I have developed my pattern and transformation theories, which are the cornerstones of Advanced Neuro-Noetic HypnosisTM.

Central to this is the realization that that our neurophysiology is made up of components such as cells, organs, systems, and networks. In turn, these components can be considered to be patterns or integral parts of patterns. Each of these components and patterns possesses awareness and reacts to its environment. This infers that they are imbued with a form of intelligence -- meaning that they possess the attributes of a mind. Therefore, rather than relying upon a simplistic conscious/subconscious bifurcation, the acceptance of a very complex and integral system of collective consciousnesses presents us with a more rational, scientific, and operational approach.

When looked at this way, what we realize is that the neurophysiologic entity that we call a body is actually a collection of intelligences or minds. Each has a resistance to change and a tendency to adapt when necessary. The top level or aggregate awareness is what we often refer to as our conscious mind. This is largely a factor of our neocortical brain. A gross simplification could state that there is another classification regarding the more limbically-oriented minds that make up a bulk of our physiology. However, it is erroneous to summarize this as one subconscious entity. Rather, it is a very complex system of intelligent components and patterns that interact, entrain, and adapt. It is by accepting and addressing their interdependence and power that the clinician can understand the true nature of pathologies, health, and the potential for causing transformations through the use of selective interventions. To ignore this and embrace the popular sophomoric and superstitious view is to limit the abilities of the practitioner and to have our clients and patients never realize their true potentials.

The International Hypnosis Research Institute is a member supported project involving integrative health care specialists from around the world. We provide information and educational resources to clinicians. Dr. Brunson is the author of over 150 self-help and clinical CD's and MP3's.

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Comments
Lee's Gravatar Excellent article!
So, does Parts Therapy correlate with this theory, do you think?
# Posted By Lee | 11/25/09 1:58 PM
Ray Davis's Gravatar Tim,

This is a very nice article. I missed your earlier article and plan to track it down and read it as well. Your ideas merit a lot of consideration and they seem to begin to shine a light down the pitch black catch-all referred to as the subconscious.

If I understand what you're saying, it sounds similar to some ideas put forth by Deepak Chopra. Would you agree? He has referred to the cells of the body as each having a kind of individual consciousness that merges into the larger whole.

To me, this is an area worthy of a great deal more thought and research. I like where you're going and look forward to reading more.
# Posted By Ray Davis | 11/25/09 3:41 PM
Jack Elias's Gravatar Tim,

I appreciate your efforts to clarify these issues. I find it interesting that people struggle so much with these concepts. Perhaps since I have been a practicing Buddhist for 40 years, I have assumed everyone has similar insights into consciousness as those presented in Buddhism.
I was very happy to read the distinction you made between questioning the existence of "the subconscious mind" vs. questioning the understanding of "its" nature, since "subconscious mind" is simply a label, not the thing itself. Clearly some activity that is useful to understand is occurring.
I find that a downside of all the new cutting edge scientific models and explanations is that clients make stories about themselves using the models as if they had direct experience of what they are describing (my right brain does this; my left brain does this). Just seems like more confused thinking is being fostered in the imagination vs. practicing focused interested attention moment by moment on what is occurring.
I may be old fashioned, but I like the "parts" or subpersonality model because clients have a very direct experience of inner conflict and competing agendas (I want to study, but I want to go to the movies) and can feel very grounded in this orientation.
Also, hypnotists have been talking to subpersonalities, body parts, and even other parts with great good effect. This would support your theory but also make your effort at creating the theory unnecessary since the techniques have been working well without the science.
But the science may be necessary and useful for some. I guess I weigh in more on the intuitive artistic side. I love to use scientific "facts" -- they are great inducers since they are believed without doubt. I am one of those mystics who has been committed to the notion that everything is made of and has consciousness so I really haven't needed science to make those connections for me.
It's not so much the facts or the model that count -- what I think counts is what releases the healing transforming movement in body and mind.
May we all grow in compassion and skillful means for the benefit of all beings.
Jack Elias, http://FindingTrueMagic.com
# Posted By Jack Elias | 11/25/09 8:38 PM
Donald Pelles's Gravatar Ok, Tim -- I believe I'm starting to get it.

There is no single "subconscious mind" -- there is a whole constellation of entities or "minds", some of which may be "aware" of some others, under certain conditions. Consciousness (or lack thereof) is complex!

-- Donald Pelles
# Posted By Donald Pelles | 11/25/09 9:17 PM
Art Emrich's Gravatar Tim - great article on a fascinating topic. I would recommend to you and
readers a book by Peter Ouspensky, The Psychology of Man's Possible
Evolution. He presents some interesting ideas about how we are not at
all the unitary creatures we think ourselves to be, but in actuality
are more like the U.S. House of Representatives. Lots of different
members representing lots of different interests, making alliances with
other individuals and groups, being radically opposed to some alliances, OK
with others, and out to lunch when some others have the floor and call
for a vote. Keep up the great work. Art
# Posted By Art Emrich | 11/27/09 1:34 AM
Daniel Skipp's Gravatar Well done on abandoning facile superficial superstitions...

and look to Gurdjieff and Taoist Chi Kung for answers...

Ouspensky IS NO GOOD. He did not understand the fundamental teachings of Gurdjieff and so misrepresented them. "In Search of the Miraculous" is good but to really get the meaning of it it would be not far wrong to open one's mind to Drew Hempel's analysis of G.

The vagus nerves from stomach and heart to brain are crucial.
He is too far-out for most "seekers" but that makes no difference to the truth.
Pyhthagorean Harmonics are the musical basis of All.
# Posted By Daniel Skipp | 11/28/09 11:32 AM
Tim Brunson, PhD's Gravatar Very interesting responses from my respected colleagues.
Ray: Yes, I see the similarities with Chopra’s thoughts, which tend to come from his Hindu background. However, I did not use his ideas or reference him in my previous writings. Most of my conclusions that are similar to his ideas came from recent work in histology, epigentics, and artificial intelligence.
Jack: Loved your post. I see where you’re coming from. Parts therapy has some parallels with my ideas. But, it is too simplistic and is based upon belief and rather poorly documented anecdotal evidence. Nevertheless, the relevance of parts theory may to some degree be found in the more scientific pattern theory that I introduced in the Neurology of Suggestion course. My polite suggestion is for you to go back to your Buddhist. The writings of Nargarjuna (Middle-Way School) and the Buddhist law of interdependent origination are completely congruent with my pattern theory. On the other hand, I know that many practitioners have done wonders with thousands of subject. However, if it is to get more credibility with the rest of the healing community, it must meet a different set of standards. That is partially my goal.
Donald: Agreed. Consciousness is complex. The challenge is how do we affect transformation in a way that works and is acceptable to the wider healing community? Thanks for your comment.
Art: My friend, thanks for your comment. Never heard of Ourspensky. Need to look into him.
Daniel: Need to re-read my Gurdjieff. It has been awhile.
# Posted By Tim Brunson, PhD | 11/28/09 6:32 PM
Jack Elias's Gravatar Tim,
Rergarding your comments:
>Parts therapy has some parallels with my ideas. But, it is too simplistic and is based upon >belief
Simple is best when it refers to helping the client to come into direct clear experience of their mental activity that allows for benficial change. In this regard lots of scientific constructs about what is happening, even if true, are a distraction from making direct contact.

>and rather poorly documented anecdotal evidence.
that's true.

>Nevertheless, the relevance of parts theory may to some degree be found in the more >scientific pattern theory that I introduced in the Neurology of Suggestion course. My polite >suggestion is for you to go back to your Buddhist. The writings of Nargarjuna (Middle-Way >School) and the Buddhist law of interdependent origination are completely congruent with my >pattern theory.

I'm not contesting that. I am just saying, when with a client, the best way is to help them have direct recognition and experience of their mind/emotions without any storyline, theirs or science's. Taste the milk rather than read all the scientific discoveries about milk. Once you have tasted it -- then certain constructs may be useful.

>On the other hand, I know that many practitioners have done wonders with thousands of >subject. However, if it is to get more credibility with the rest of the healing community, it >must meet a different set of standards. That is partially my goal.

With this goal in mind, I wish you all the best!
# Posted By Jack Elias | 11/28/09 8:50 PM
Jack Elias's Gravatar Hi Tim,

Your comment about parts therapy, "Parts therapy has some parallels with my ideas. But, it is too simplistic and is based upon belief" keeps coming back to me so I guess I have more to say.
I agree that a belief based approach to parts therapy is fraught with pitfalls and dangerous potential for delusion for both client and therapist. I make it very clear that it is a metaphor, a useful device to resolve inner conflict, but that no actual parts exist -- better to consider it a one person show with the actor quickly shifting from one posture/perspective to another. From this perspective the client is motivated to take ownership of whatever arises and relate to it constructively and non-violently (my instruction).
Here is a brief excerpt from my book, Finding True Magic, describing my take on parts as applied to conflicted emotions and motivations:

"Subpersonalities or parts are semi-autonomous energy systems—learnings and skills packages—that are triggered into action by an appropriate stimulus. They are the response that attempts to resolve the situation comprehensively. They are finished products—belief system containers–indicating that the mind is made up about what is going on and what means what. Each part is ensnared in egoic logic (see pages 87-91); the whole person is the composite of these parts; one’s ego is the cluster of the parts' egoic processes. In other words, these are trance states that project meaning onto present situations, based on a similarity to past situations that created and solidified the relevant part or parts. The activated part(s) do not allow one to relate to the uniqueness of present experience, moment by moment in a state of present time autonomy."
©Jack Elias, 1996, Finding True Magic. p. 157.

Hope that helps.
Peace,
Jack
PS. Sorry for the >'s in my last comment. I didn't realize they wouldn't transfer correctly from this Add Comments box to the webpage. :(
# Posted By Jack Elias | 11/29/09 6:54 PM
Tim Brunson, PhD's Gravatar Jack,

I hope that others benefit from this lively discussion. Unfortunately, my articles regarding this topic are merely snippets. Therefore, without grasping the entire set of ANNH theories, it is hard to get the entire picture.

Your comments and the quote from your excellent book obviously support the main theme of my latest article. Once you grasp the full spectrum of what I am developing, I am sure that you will see the influence that your work has had on my thinking. However, since it was published in 1996 there have been a tremendous number of extremely important discoveries in a multitude of fields. When merged with the experiential and metaphorical ideas expressing in your work, they both validate your ideas and open up exciting new lines of reasoning.

Stating that the difference in our approaches is only semantics would be a gross injustice. Nevertheless, let me offer this brief attempt to provide a guide to translate some of our terminology.

Parts = patterns = networks (patterns are also components in other patterns) = consciousness/intelligence
Sub-personalities = patterns = subnets
Activation = pattern recall

Looking at our neurophysiology as a dualistic conscious/subconscious or even recognizing a couple of sub-personalities is rather simplistic compared to realizing the complex structure of patterns. Rather think of our neurophysiology and our brain/mind as an inter-network (or internet) of patterns. Sub-personalities represent collection of patterns or subnets. (It is important to realize that the three essential characteristics of a pattern are structure, encoding, and the ability to be recalled.)

When looked at in this way, the focus should turn to how maladaptive patterns (which are obvious in the quote from your book) can be changed. Dealing a pattern’s resistance to change and its adaptive nature then become the issues. While parts theory provides a valuable metaphor and model, it has its limits as you have so rightly recognized. When those limits are encountered in the intervention process, the further insights offered by the more comprehensive (and more relevant to recent science) ANNH theories provide additional options.

This is a rather brief explanation as to why I used the word “simplistic” regarding parts theory. That theory is an extremely relevant step in the evolution that led to my current ideas. However, a better understanding of the dynamics of pattern interaction and transformation is very significant to further improving the efficiency of medical and psychological interventions.

I trust that this hopefully clarifies my rather off handed comments regarding the “simplistic” nature of parts theory. I had no intention of disrespecting its value despite my excitement about the direction that it points. My fear is that my innovative approaches will soon become obsolete once they are fully challenged by the implications of the quantum enigma. My only goal is to hopefully contribute for a brief instant of time.

Yours,

Tim
# Posted By Tim Brunson, PhD | 11/30/09 10:37 AM
Jack Elias's Gravatar Your comment about parts therapy, "Parts therapy has some parallels with my ideas. But, it is too simplistic and is based upon belief" keeps coming back to me so I guess I have more to say.
I agree that a belief based approach to parts therapy is fraught with pitfalls and dangerous potential for delusion for both client and therapist. I make it very clear that it is a metaphor, a useful device to resolve inner conflict, but that no actual parts exist -- better to consider it a one person show with the actor quickly shifting from one posture/perspective to another. From this perspective the client is motivated to take ownership of whatever arises and relate to it constructively and non-violently (my instruction).
Here is a brief excerpt from my book, Finding True Magic, describing my take on parts as applied to conflicted emotions and motivations:

"Subpersonalities or parts are semi-autonomous energy systems—learnings and skills packages—that are triggered into action by an appropriate stimulus. They are the response that attempts to resolve the situation comprehensively. They are finished products—belief system containers–indicating that the mind is made up about what is going on and what means what. Each part is ensnared in egoic logic (see pages 87-91); the whole person is the composite of these parts; one’s ego is the cluster of the parts' egoic processes. In other words, these are trance states that project meaning onto present situations, based on a similarity to past situations that created and solidified the relevant part or parts. The activated part(s) do not allow one to relate to the uniqueness of present experience, moment by moment in a state of present time autonomy.
As such, subpersonalities are more or less effective in dealing with the uniqueness of present experience. Those which are less effective, generally, communicate through pain, physical and/or emotional. We call these less effective subs problems."
© Jack ELais, Finding True Magic, p. 157
# Posted By Jack Elias | 11/30/09 6:54 PM
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