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The Subconscious Mind in Clinical Application


Much of the controversy in the field of mind/body healing can be attributed to the way terms are defined. Mind and consciousness are fundamentally non-scientific words and yet mind/body scientists and practitioners still must employ them to describe their results and their work. Any definition will carry an element of the subjective posture of the one giving the definition. The definitions of these words express theoretical constructs that guide research and clinical practice.

Mind, Consciousness and the Brain

Because it is clear that our individual and collective being has a sense of direction and organization, that the healthy human develops to maturity and learns predictable social patterns of behavior across the lifespan, my definition of Mind is: the "organ" of that organization, integration and direction across the lifespan, together with the "quality" that makes such awareness, development, organization and coordination possible. Mind is aggregate Consciousness. Awareness, or consciousness, is the capacity to perceive activity and respond to it. Every one of our fifty trillion cells has consciousness, as do the atoms and subatomic particles of which they are composed. Consciousness expresses itself in energy but is less measurable. The brain is not the mind. The brain receives and transmits mind energies, and so does the heart. Neither is the source of Mind: Mind is a non-local quality shared by all of life.

Conscious Mind and Subconscious Mind

The conscious mind directs our self-conscious intentional behavior, yet most of the functions of Mind are far too complex and subtle for the conscious mind to comprehend or direct. Among its subtler tasks Mind originates, organizes, coordinates and directs the activities of growth and development, wound healing, central nervous system activity, memory, and gene expression. The aspect of Mind that can accomplish these latter skills is the subconscious mind. It accomplishes them by virtue of its own nature, automatically, by means of native and acquired habit patterns. Though these subtle activities are demonstrably both directed and ordered, they can neither be directed nor ordered by conscious intention. The conscious mind can influence these activities-intentionally (via guided imagery or hypnosis) or unintentionally (via patterns of negative thinking)-but it cannot assume responsibility for them. Conscious and subconscious mind are a unified and coordinated whole. "Sub"-conscious simply refers to aspects of consciousness that are "below" self-conscious focused awareness of them, even while they remain "in" our personal consciousness (or we in them!).

Placebo Effect and Healing

Bruce Lipton (2008, p. 108) (1) writes: "…Some historians make a strong case that the history of medicine is largely the history of the placebo effect." While acknowledging that most research attributes around thirty percent of all medical results to the placebo effect, Dr. Lipton thinks that the placebo effect (i.e. belief in self-healing) is far more effective than even that. He cites a 2002 University of Connecticut study in which "Eighty Percent of the effect of antidepressants, as measured in clinical trials, could be attributed to the placebo effect." (Lipton op. cit., p. 110) (2). Dr. Lipton also writes that the effect of negative beliefs (what he calls the "nocebo" effect) is just as effective: "When the mind changes, it absolutely affects your biology" (Lipton op. cit., p. 111) (3).

The power of thoughts and beliefs cannot seriously be doubted, but are there limits?

Tim Brunson, Ph.D. writes: "If approximately 30% of interventions work only due to expectancy, then why doesn't the ‘art of the placebo' take a preeminent role in the healing professions?... if the medical profession uses the 30% placebo threshold to establish the efficacy of pharmacotherapy as a meaningful alternative, how does this account for the frequent publication of scientific research in which hypnotherapy produces symptom reduction or accelerates healing in over 80% of the patients in treatment groups?" (Brunson, 2009) (4). Eighty percent isn't very far away from a hundred percent if you consider that all healing modalities are at least as much art as science, and maybe they are all art.

Hypnosis, the Placebo Effect and Self-Healing

Hypnosis is the intentional activation of the placebo effect. It is the art of getting the client to heal himself: it is self-healing. How does it work? Regardless of the explanation given by the practitioner, apparently the neurological action of hypnosis is the inhibition of the activity of the brain's left prefrontal cortex and the consequent activation of the right prefrontal cortex (Brunson, 2009) (5). Inhibition of the left prefrontal cortex distracts the conservative "critical faculty" of mind that usually guards against novel/threatening input and it activates the imagination. In imagination anything is possible, which suggests that anything you can imagine is possible-including a hundred percent healing results-if you believe it is. After all, every cell in your body contains your complete genetic blueprint and gene expression springs from the internal environment produced by your thoughts and beliefs.

Subconscious Mind, Healing and Habits

So then how is all this healing carried out? If the history of medicine/healing is the history of learning to employ the placebo effect, then our healing experiences follow along the lines of our beliefs about what can heal us-and even about whether or not we can be healed. People who are expected to die don't and people who aren't expected to die do, all because of what they thought their doctor expected them to do (Siegel, 2001) (6). The pivotal understanding in mind/body healing is that you must actually believe enough in the possibility of healing to tell yourself so with conviction. You must either bypass your conservative "critical faculty" by tripping up the left prefrontal cortex or find another way to allay your fears of change such that your right prefrontal cortex will paint the necessary healing picture. Your mind will communicate the imagined outcome and then your body will manifest it in conformance with your thinking. And how is all this carried out? By the subconscious mind.

In the first place, none of this healing activity could be carried out at all were it not for the mind. The conscious mind construes and projects the creative healing images, feelings, sensations and so on and then the subconscious mind, by force of habit, performs the neurobiocellular "miracle" of physical healing. It is Mind that construes both the sickness and the health. Most of the illness thinking goes on at the subconscious level, where it is often symbolic or metaphorical. Few people intentionally become ill. The idea is to get your mind pointed in the right direction, toward good habits of mind.

It is the subconscious mind that carries along all of our habits of mind, including those that contain beliefs about our health (see about Force of Habit in the IHRI newsletter, 2009) (7) [Journal Article one and two]. These are the habits that the left prefrontal cortex holds onto so tightly that it has to be out knocked off its feet before it will get out of the way long enough for something creative to happen. The subconscious mind can be educated to the value of new habits once fear is removed from the picture. As to carrying out all of the cell biology involved in healing even a simple wound (let alone arthritic conditions), only the subconscious mind is capable of directing that kind of activity.


(1) Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D. (2008). The Biology of Belief. New York: Hay House. 108.

(2) Lipton, op. cit. page 110.

(3) Lipton, op. cit. page 111.

(4) Tim Brunson, Ph.D. (2009). Healing Beyond the Placebo Effect. In the International Hypnosis Research Institute newsletter, 10-26-09.

(5) Tim Brunson, Ph.D. (2009). The Implications of Inhibition on the Practice of Hypnotherapy. In the International Hypnosis Research Institute newsletter, 9-7-09.

(6) Bernie Siegel, M.D. (2001). Peace, Love and Healing. New York: HarperCollins.

(7) David Kohlhagen, LPC, NBCCH (2009) Hypnosis and Force of Habit. In the International Hypnosis Research Institute newsletter, 8-3-09: http://www.hypnosisresearchInstitute.org/index.cfm/2009/8/3/Hypnosis-and-Force-of-Habit#more . and David Kohlhagen, LPC, NBCCH (2009) Defining Terms: The Theory of Force of Habit. In the International Hypnosis Research Institute newsletter, 8-31-09: http://www.hypnosisresearchInstitute.org/index.cfm/2009/8/26/Defining-Terms-The-Theory-of-Force-of-Habit#more .

Published by 11-23-09 the International Hypnosis Research Institute

David Kohlhagen - Think Responibly! Branded Graphic THINK RESPONSIBLY!


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