The Unconscious Mind

A good model to understand hypnosis is the left/right brain model. Whilst this is largely supported by such tools as brain scanning techniques it, however, still a model, albeit a useful one. Here is a pictorial representation.

It is seen that the two halves of the brain undertake different functions and they communicate very poorly, especially when we are in emotional difficulties. This is represented by the metaphorical brick wall.

The left brain undertakes processing which is logical, rational, abstract and evaluative (those who are “Trekkies” think of Mr Spock). The right brain processes emotions and feelings and functions in an instinctive or intuitive manner. How often do we know “in our head” what we should feel but “in our heart” feel differently. Attempting to use simple logic to resolve our emotional difficulties is a bit like banging our head against a brick wall.

The left brain can be called the conscious mind whereas the right brain can be regarded as the unconscious mind.

Memory using the left brain is intentional – we can choose to remember, for example, what we ate for dinner last night. Whereas right brain memories are involuntary and state dependent. These are links to negative or positive events. That is fine if it is something such as “our tune” that links us to a particular time with the associated good emotions. However if this is an unconscious link – a visual image, smell, taste or body feeling – to a bad previous experience then this is a problem. Such processes are involved in the production of flashbacks following trauma.

The left brain processes in words, whereas the right brain processes in pictures. Hence if we use imagery then we can influence or “right brain” in order to change our feelings. The use of imagery can be called hypnosis and is a very useful technique that can be used both for personal development and therapy.

We use internal, unconscious processing a great deal, in fact could not function well without it. Can you remember, if you can drive a car, how it felt when you were learning to change gear? There were so many things that you had to be aware of, and different things that you needed to do simultaneously with each limb – did you feel, at times, that you would never master this? As you continued and practised you got to the stage where, I suspect, most of the time now you are not even aware of what gear you are in and when you are changing gear. The process of selecting and changing gear takes place at an unconscious level.

We have developed patterns of behaviour that mean that we spend most of our time on autopilot and have very few times in the day when we make conscious choices. Running our life on autopilot is fine provided the autopilot is set to the destination that we wish to arrive at – but if not then we need to know how to switch off the autopilot and fly the plane.