The Conscious And Unconscious In Clinical Hypnosis

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Erickson emphasizes certain aspects of the relations between the conscious and unconscious and the many ways of utilizing them for therapeutic purposes in his work with clinical hypnosis. This is a major theme that is introduced in this first commentary and will be discussed further in practically all the following sessions. We believe that consciousness, programmed by the typical attitudes and beliefs of modern rationalistic man, is grievously limited. It has been estimated that, at best, most people do not utilize more than l0 percent of their mental capacity. Most of us simply do not know how to utilize our individual capacities. Our educational system has taught us how to measure up to certain external criteria of learning only. We learn our A B C's, how to read and write, and similar skills. The adequacy of our learning is measured by our scores on standardized achievement tests rather than the degree to which we utilize our own unique neural circuits for our individual goals. Our educational system as yet has little or no means of training and measuring the individual's ability to utilize his own unique behavioral matrix and associative processes even though this internal ability is of the essence in creativity and personality development.

Consciousness is thus programmed to meet outer consensual standards of achievement, while all that is unique within the individual remains in abeyance. That is, most of our individuality remains unconscious and unknown. Erickson can say, "It is very important for people to know their unconscious is smarter than they are. There is a greater wealth of stored material in the unconscious."

Patients have problems because their conscious programming has too severely limited their capacities. The solution is to help them break through the limitations of their conscious attitudes to free their unconscious potential for problem solving.

Again and again we will find that Erickson's approaches to inducing trance and problem solving are usually directed toward circumventing the rigid and learned limitations of the patient's conscious and habitual attitudes. We will later demonstrate and discuss means of "depotentiating conscious sets," "coping with consciousness," and the like. All these phrases denote the same effort to free individuals from their learned limitations. As Erickson so clearly states, "You build your technique around instructions that allow their conscious mind to withdraw from the task, and leave it all up to the unconscious."

To implement this goal of freeing unconscious potentials from the limitations of consciousness, Erickson has pioneered the indirect approaches to hypnotic suggestion. These approaches are in marked contrast to most previous and current work in hypnosis, where direct suggestions are still considered to be the major therapeutic modality. The following sessions and commentaries will be a gradual introduction to these indirect approaches. So multifaceted and vast are the possibilities of these indirect approaches that Erickson has never been able to organize them into a comprehensive system; in fact, he does not always understand why and how they work. Indirect approaches are thus still a virgin field, a terra incognita, that some readers will hopefully explore and extend further in their own research and therapeutic practice.

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