Barry D Cooper BSc DipCHP HPD AdvDPLT MNCH(Acc) MBPsS

Below the Surface

Did you see the BBC Horizon documentary on “the unconscious mind” last week? I found it very disappointing. It just reinforced my negative opinion of experimental psychology: if we can’t measure it, it’s not scientific so we’ll ignore it.

The programme focused particularly on brain scans. Neuroscientists may have some idea of how the brain works but this tells you nothing about “the mind” in general or the unconscious mind (“UCM”) in particular. And how can you produce a documentary on “the unconscious” without even mentioning Freud or Jung?

To learn about the UCM we need to use introspection, excluded from academic psychology for over a hundred years. If you want to know how someone thinks – ask him. NLP provides us with a useful set of tools for this, including the study of representational systems (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic) and “parts integration”, in which we can talk to and negotiate with “parts” of the UCM.

Parts in particular, and the UCM in general, don’t have a separate physical existence, either in the brain or elsewhere. They are, in effect, metaphors – a way of looking at and dealing with the mind which works as though it exists separately.

Let’s look in more detail at this metaphorical structure of the mind.


We can think of the mind as an iceberg, of which the conscious mind is only the tip; the vast majority of the mind, the UCM, is “below the surface”. (I’ll get to the Collective Unconscious later). The main differences between the two “minds” are:

The Conscious The Unconscious
Can only hold up to 9 “chunks” of information Holds everything else
Is aware of now Is the storehouse of all memories
Thinks Feels
Works logically and deliberately Works intuitively and automatically
Asks “why” Knows “why”
Tries to understand a problem Knows the solution
Controls voluntary movements Controls involuntary movements

So where do Freud and Jung come in? They were both pioneers in the study of the UCM, although they had rather different opinions on what it contains. For Freud, it was primarily the repressed part of the mind, full of forgotten traumatic memories which continue to influence our behaviour. Jung’s view was that the UCM’s content is much wider, including various aspects of the self, and, in the Collective Unconscious, inherited racial memories and especially “archetypes”.

When I studied psychology, many years ago, we had several lectures on Freud, but Jung was dismissed in one sentence as “a mystic”. Although I have had no formal training in his methods I have read enough of his work to accept at least some of his ideas, and in particular I have been trained in the use of “Archetypal Parts Imagery”, which in effect is a merger of Jung’s archetypes with the NLP parts integration technique. This is a particularly versatile tool which I’ve used to help many clients.

Even the Horizon documentary acknowledged the power of the UCM, although their understanding of it wasn’t the same as mine. Hypnotherapy, NLP and some Jung’s “Analytical Psychology” are based on the idea that we can, with help or training, gain access to the memories and other resources of the unconscious mind and to make use of them to improve our lives.