Thousands of scholars over the centuries have attempted to quantify and define what consciousness is. There is no agreement on definition or explanation of why or how it occurs. Although there is a strong debate between science and philosophy about it, many of us in the coaching field have moved on to grasp some current understandings to work with people. And to be an effective Gestaltist, we recognize that Gestalt works beyond the conscious mind.
Levels of Consciousness
In the field of psychology, the mind, or psyche, is referred to as having different parts: the conscious mind and the unconscious (or subconscious) mind. Sigmund Freud used the terms subconscious and unconscious interchangeably in his writing and lectures. He saw them as the repressed parts of the mind that held memories and feelings that were making the subject ill. These repressed parts of the mind could be revealed in slips of the tongue and in dreams.
As the world of psychology divided toward and away from Freud’s concepts, the Humanistic Movement, of which Gestalt is a part, felt strongly that the levels of consciousness were, in fact, quite different. And it did not see the unconscious and subconscious as equivalent. The conscious mind is in operation when we are in the here and now, the present moment. The thoughts and feelings that we are aware of are in the now, and we can put words to or constructs around them. This is our ego.
The subconscious refers to the part that exists outside of our present awareness in the moment. It stores memories, feelings, and thoughts. The information contained in the subconscious mind is not actively in our awareness, but it still influences us. And most importantly, it is available to us in recall. With focus and concentration, these parts can be awakened and shifted into the forefront of the conscious mind.
The unconscious is the part of the mind we do not have access to and that is not available for recall. It is acting as more of an operating system for the brain. This may be thought of as the warehouse of our thought processes, affects, and memory. The unconscious is not a place where we can be introspective. Our primal and primitive thought, our earliest preverbal understanding, and possibly epigenetic thought patterns lie here. This is the id.
Hypnotherapy is believed to tap in to the subconscious part of the mind in its deepest sections or recesses. It is done for the purpose of tapping in to that which is not consciously processed. Hypnotherapy is useful for retrieving memories and for assisting a person in changing patterns and behavior.
Gestalt Accesses the Subconscious Mind
The work in Gestalt often facilitates accessing what is held in the subconscious as well. The client sometimes moves into an altered state of consciousness, which allows them to safely retrieve parts of their memories that are pushed down in their unfinished business. As the client becomes more mindful and aware of the present moment, the coach artfully creates the experiment or piece of work, allowing the client to move into a retrieval state. In the process, the mind frees up the subconscious to complete the work emotionally and cognitively.
These memories are held in the subconscious (sometimes referred to as the preconscious) mind, but are accessible. And when the piece of work is completed and a gestalt is achieved, there is a sense of peace and freedom because the client no longer has to expend the energy to keep what has been held in the subconscious in place there.
As we work in mindfulness, encouraging awareness as the key to healing, the client begins to welcome the falling into place of each piece of their personal puzzle. Personally, I agree with Dr. Deepak Chopra’s early work, Perfect Health, in which he describes how each cell has a brain inside of it. The brain in each cell holds on to memories. As cells die off and new cells come on to replace them, the memories of trauma and unfinished business are replicated and passed on to the new generation of cells. Thus, the body holds the trauma until it is cleared and let go.
This is why Gestalt is so effective. It reaches beyond the conscious mind, releases the subconscious mind from what is trapped there, and encourages the full body and every cell to release pain. It unlocks the brain inside every cell of the body and replaces it with peace, which is then replicated in new cells. We become healthy in body, mind, spirit, and emotions as the process unfolds.