At the beginning of the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud developed techniques of psychoanalysis thus introducing the fundamental ideas that form the basis of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis today. Freud, Carl Jung and others of their time developed the concept of “psychotherapy” to deal with problems that did not have a clear, organic basis. (Freud, 1920, 1923) They proposed theories to suggest that these situations were caused by childhood experiences in the “unconscious” mind (which I feel should refer to the subconscious mind).
They developed and used techniques of dream interpretation, free association and transference to analyze the psyche which Freud broke down into the “id, ego and superego. ” As psychotherapy theory developed and progressed, subsequent psychologists built upon Freud’s ideas resulting in the development of psychodynamic theory that considers how the conscious and “unconscious” (which I have referred to as the subconscious) influence interactions and relationships outside of the self.
Though trend setting, many of Freud’s ideas were inconsistent and flawed. Then, as now, the flaws arise at least in part from Freud’s failure to be consistent in his definitions and use of the terms common to psychoanalysis. This problem persists throughout psychology to the present. For example, Freud’s use of the terms “subconscious” (a term he eventually eliminated, see below) and “unconscious” are unclear and confusing.
In general, Freud and most psychologists today used the terms interchangeably and generally fall into the practice of referring to the “unconscious” when they probably mean the subconscious (refer back to my previous definitions for my reasoning). The distinction between the two is unclear. A review of the literature in an attempt to distinguish between the “subconscious” and the “unconscious” is likely to leave one bewildered, giving the impression that they are more or less indistinguishable—one and the same.
Even so, the terms have very different connotations and dictionary definitions (un- conscious means “not” aware and sub- conscious means “under the level of normal or typical awareness which is not to say that there is no awareness) that, apparently, go unrecognized throughout psychology. The available data, for example, suggests that we have subconscious control over the organs, glands and the smooth muscles of the body. This subconscious control is often lost during unconsciousness forcing physicians to resort to life support equipment to take over the functions that are normally handled subconsciously.
The body (but not the ego) is conscious of this control at some level and attends to it constantly. This is quite different from the state of “unconsciousness” where even subconscious control can be lost. Yet, psychologists do not generally distinguish between these states. Since the term “preconscious” regularly arises in consideration of the history of psychotherapy, the term must be defined. Preconscious refers to “That part of the mind that is not in immediate awareness but can be consciously recalled with effort, one of Freud’s topographic model of the mind.
” Perhaps much of the confusion arises because the Freud used the term subconscious in his early work but decided to eliminate it due to its ambiguity. In my view, this only added to the confusion since today, the psychological meanings and distinctions between the various states of consciousness remain muddled and unclear. Bringing in the idea of the “preconscious” does not clear up the matter. What, for example, is the real distinction between “preconscious” that cannot be recalled except with effort and the subconscious?
It appears that the idea that psychologists have unsuccessfully been attempting to relay can be presented by referring to the subconscious as that portion of the mind is not subject to voluntary control but exerts control over involuntary body functions such as that of the glands and the smooth muscles, the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ego controls the CNS (central nervous system) and the subconscious (not the unconscious) controls the ANS. The subconscious appears to be the portion of the mind where memory is stored, the elusive “engram” of Karl Lashley, the “hologram” of Karl Pribram.
(Pribram, 1993) The conscious mind is that part of the mind that is controlled by the ego. Although not a factor in the history of psychotherapy, the third part of the mind, super conscious, was demonstrated by William McDougall, a psychologist. (McDougall, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1936, 1938) Although McDougall and those who pursued his enigmatic studies were involved in aspects of psychotherapy, the present essay will do no more than mention McDougall’s work, define the super conscious and present our reason for including it as part of the mind.
However, since this essay is a review of the history of psychotherapy, McDougall’s discovery of super consciousness is outside of the scope of this essay, particularly since it is not considered in psychotherapy and is generally ignored in psychology. Perhaps the confusion that exists as throughout psychotherapy is illustrated by the general disagreements in regards to the fundamental aspects of psychology regarding the nature of the unconscious mind. Part of the confusion surrounds what constitutes the properties and abilities on the “unconscious” mind.
I contend that there is no such thing as an “unconscious” mind. Karl Popper objected to Freud’s ideas because he thought they were not falsifiable, that is, the theories he proposed could not be disproved and thus were unscientific. Popper felt that no amount of experimentation could refute his theory of the unconscious mind. One could understand this if we view confusion surround the terms used throughout psychology. Is there really an “unconscious” mind or is “unconsciousness” merely a state of the conscious mind. Are the unconscious and the subconscious actually different things?
There is no clear answer in psychology. From Freud’s time to the present, there remains great controversy as to the existence of lack thereof of the “unconscious mind. ” Since Freud did away with the subconscious mind, it merely becomes lost in the general discussion despite the obvious fact that some aspects of behavior, mental activity and body functions occur below a person’s conscious awareness. These functions can accurately be portrayed as “subconscious”, below the level of consciousness, but not so accurately portrayed as “unconscious”.
Despite the usefulness of the idea of the subconscious and its clear superiority over the term “unconscious” as demonstrated by their definitions in Dorland’s, it was the subconscious that Freud eliminated rather than the unconscious. After Freud introduced his ideas of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy beginning around the turn of the 19th century, his ideas continued to develop until the concept of behaviorism and behavior modification developed in the 1920s.
Behaviorism is based on the idea that all of an organism’s thinking, actions and feelings are merely behaviors that can be scientifically described independent of any physiological events or hypothetical constructs. Behaviorists view the mind and the existence of the mind as no more than an abstract, hypothetical construct. This view of psychotherapy predominated from the 1920s until the 1950s and still exists today. Behaviorists consider that psychology is or should be totally objective and based on objective experimentation. J. B.
Watson published an article “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views it” (1913), also called “The Behaviorist Manifesto”. Published during a time when psychologists were seeking to gain respect and looked enviously at their colleagues in physics and chemistry, they excised all references to freedom, self-control, volition and consciousness from psychology (Karlins and Andrews, 1972), Watson’s work sought to approach psychology as purely objective without any reference to introspection and with no dependence on consciousness or how to interpret consciousness.
All data and experiments were to be solely based on experiments designed to predict and control behavior. The work of B. F. Skinner came subsequent to that of Watson. Skinner was one of the best known behaviorists. (Skinner, 1938, 1945, 1933, 1957, 1969) He was instrumental in introducing ideas of conditioning such as those introduced by Palov whose work on conditioned reflexes in the 1890s and 1900s won him the Nobel Prize in 1904 (the year B. F. Skinner was born). Palov’s work in Russia largely became known in the West because of J. B.
Watson. (Watson, 1913, 1919, 1924) Like other behaviorists, Skinner and others like him such as Joseph Wolpe and Hans Eysenck continued to deny and ignore any role for mental activity in psychotherapy. They approached psychology in terms of conditioning studies such as operant conditioning, classical conditioning and social learning theory. Advances in the field of psychotherapy began to decrease towards the 1950s largely because behaviorists continued to ignore the role of internal mental activity in explaining aspects of psychotherapy.