The Ericksonian approach to the unconscious mind

Ericksonian hypnotherapy is based upon the concept that we have a conscious and an unconscious mind. This concept has evolved from Freud’s model of the unconscious being a storage system of repressed memories and experiences revolving around the time of puberty, and the humanistic perception of the unconscious mind being a reservoir of resources and skills to be nurtured and treasured.

unconscious mind
Ericksonian hypnotherapy sees the unconscious as having several functions. The first being that the unconscious acts as a security guard that holds back some experiences and memories to protect the client from pain. The second is to store and sort positive experiences and memories. It is from this “store” that the therapist takes his ideas for therapeutic interventions. The third function of the unconscious is to oversee the body’s autonomous processes and healing mechanisms.

Ericksonian therapists prefer talking to the unconscious mind rather than the conscious mind because we believe that it is more important to address the client’s unconscious mind when using hypnosis. We play down the role of the conscious mind as it often contains the client’s learned limitations, and these limitations often get in the way of successful therapy. After all, if the client already knew consciously how to get better, they would not need therapy.

Indirect suggestion, metaphor and analogies, stories such as recalling how the client first learned to tie a shoelace illustrate how the unconscious has now taken over these responsibilities so we do not have to consciously be aware of what we are doing. These stories serve to highlight the enormous competency of the unconscious mind.

Most of the language skills we use in Ericksonian hypnotherapy are designed to appeal directly to the unconscious mind, and an ability to create these language patterns appropriately and quickly is very important. Erickson created a separate and different vocabulary specifically for the unconscious mind. Clients listening to the language consciously have difficulty understanding the depth and complexity of the language because much is based on implication.

We will often suggest that the conscious mind becomes distracted, so we can communicate more directly with the unconscious mind. By working more closely with the client’s unconscious we hope to bypass any conscious resistance or sabotage sometimes introduced by the client’s conscious doubts about the method of treatment or their ability to heal. It is important that the therapist develop an honest relationship with the client’s unconscious cognitive processes so that the therapist can work therapeutically without interference from the conscious part of the client that has perhaps created their problem in the first place, and maybe plays a part in the ongoing issues maintenance.

Denise Byrne, Clinical Hypnotherapist, tel: 01234 409538

Categories: Ericksonian hypnotherapy and Hypnotherapy.