What Is The Preconscious, And What Does It Mean To Me?

Medically reviewed by April Justice
Updated December 13, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Use Your Preconscious Mind To Your Advantage

You may have heard of the conscious and unconscious mind, but the word “preconscious” is generally not as widely known or used. The preconscious generally refers to the thoughts you aren't actively thinking of but can call to mind easily given the right trigger. In contrast, unconscious thoughts tend to be repressed to the point that you can't remember them without extreme effort and specialized help. The preconscious mind may benefit you by allowing for memory storage, providing you with intuitive understanding, and helping you discover solutions to problems you may be facing. In therapy, a licensed mental health professional may use the preconscious to connect your memories, help you learn from your experiences, and fine-tune your awareness. If you’re interested in using your preconscious mind to address mental health concerns, working with a therapist online or in person can be beneficial.

Freud And The Preconscious

The definition of preconscious psychology typically uses psychoanalytic theory as its basis. Josef Bauer, an Austrian physician specializing in the brain, may have coined the word. Freud is generally believed to have used the term preconscious extensively for many years before he developed the idea of the id, ego, and superego as the three parts of the psyche.

Freud frequently talked about conscious, preconscious, and unconscious thoughts. 

  • Conscious thoughts can be defined as those we're aware of right now. In general, we must actively hold these thoughts in mind. If we don't, they might be stored in the long-term memory or the unconscious mind.
  • The unconscious mind can encompass all the thoughts we have that we aren't actively thinking about at this moment. Within the unconscious mind, Freud said, there are usually thoughts we can't easily retrieve. These may be traumatic memories or thoughts we have repressed.
  • The preconscious thoughts are generally those that we aren't thinking of now but can think of easily if we choose to or if they are triggered. We may not be using those thoughts at this moment, but we can pull them out of our unconscious minds quickly and easily.

Some sources place the preconscious as a part of the mind separate from the unconscious. This interpretation of Freudian theory typically makes a clear distinction between the part of the mind we can easily get to and the part we can't. However, whether the preconscious mind is a part of the unconscious or not, all three aspects of the mind can work together as we perceive and make decisions about our lives.

The Id, Ego, And Superego

As Freud continued to develop psychoanalytic theory, he is believed to have had difficulty refining the definitions of the conscious, unconscious, and preconscious. After that, he generally focused on the three parts of the psyche he identified as the id, the ego, and the superego.

  • The id can be defined as the disorganized part of the psyche where instincts and impulses rule. 
  • The superego may be the part of the personality that’s concerned with what you should do. 
  • The ego usually mediates between the id and superego to determine the actions you take. The ego can ultimately be thought of as the decision-making part of your mind.

Freud also related the id, ego, and superego to the theory of the conscious and unconscious mind. He generally saw the ego and superego as conscious parts of the personality. The id may contain our unconscious desires and drives that may not be accepted socially or within our conception of what's right and wrong.

The ego mostly operates in the conscious mind, although it may call on the preconscious mind for information and memories. The superego primarily operates in the conscious mind as well. However, there may be times when you have feelings of right and wrong without being aware of the thoughts that come with those feelings.

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Benefits Of The Preconscious Mind

Your preconscious mind can be very handy. It may provide several benefits that the conscious mind can't supply on its own. Below are a few ways that the preconscious may benefit you. 

Memory Storage

Long-term memories may be stored in your preconscious and unconscious minds because your conscious mind typically only holds the memories, thoughts, perceptions, and desires you're experiencing at this exact moment. Because the memories tend to be close at hand, your brainpower may go far beyond the thoughts you can hold in mind at any given moment.

Memory Retrieval

Your unconscious and preconscious minds typically contain all your memories that go back longer than a few minutes. However, you can't usually recall repressed memories from your unconscious without help or a very powerful trigger. The memories within your preconscious may all be right there, waiting to be called on as needed.

Background Activity

A common misconception is that when you have a problem, worrying about it can get you closer to a solution. However, the truth may be that your preconscious mind can hold those thoughts and work on them without you being aware of the process. Suddenly, the answer may come to you, sometimes even more easily than when you keep your conscious mind actively focused on the problem. There may not be any need to worry; your preconscious mind is likely working in the background!

Intuitive Understanding

Our intuition typically comes across as a feeling, but it's usually based on thoughts we aren't aware of. These thoughts may reside in the preconscious or unconscious. We may not consciously know the specific reasons why we have a feeling that something's right or not right, but more deeply, we may know. This intuitive understanding can be invaluable for self and achievement.

Problem-Solving

As adults, we usually try to draw conclusions and base our decisions on what seems the truest to us. In short, we frequently want to rely on our inner resources to make important life decisions.

You may have a breadth of knowledge within your preconscious that you can use to solve life's problems. By calling on these memories and bringing them into your conscious mind, you can benefit from experiences and information you've committed to memory. You can learn from them long after the events have taken place.

How Therapists Work With The Preconscious

Whether you're experiencing emotional difficulties, needing to make an important decision, going through relationship issues, or trying to overcome a mental health condition, therapy can help you handle each of those situations. In-person and online therapists, whether they practice psychoanalytic methods or other types of therapy, may help you tap into the thoughts within your preconscious mind for several reasons.

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Use Your Preconscious Mind To Your Advantage

Connecting Memories

Often, we have two bits of information or two experiences we could put together to provide us with insights we may never have realized before. Both factors may be in your preconscious, so that you aren't aware of them at the moment.

A skilled therapist may prompt you to remember facts and events that can help you draw your own conclusions. If your psychologist knows your background, they probably have some ideas about what kinds of experiences you may have had that can apply to the current situation.

For example, if you're trying to resolve a conflict with your child, your therapist might ask you to try to remember certain childhood experiences. Then, they might ask you to remember a time when you faced a similar conflict between you and another adult. By connecting these memories in your conscious mind, the therapist can help you decipher the differences and similarities between having a conflict with a child and having a conflict with an adult.

Teaching You Through Your Own Experiences

Therapists can help you connect memories from your preconscious to the conscious thoughts you're having during the session. In this way, they may help you activate your mental resources. As you move from stored information to conscious thought, you may find it easier to make these connections on your own.

Fine-Tuning Your Awareness

The main value of having information in your preconscious mind can be in being able to quickly use it. We can usually only make reasoned decisions on things we're aware of at the moment. What we choose to be aware of can make the difference between making a positive decision and continuing to struggle. 

After you gain an insight in therapy, your therapist may suggest that you keep that insight in mind as you face an upcoming situation that may be difficult for you to handle. You’re not likely to have that information locked in your conscious mind from the time of the session to the time the event occurs, but you can call it up from your preconscious as soon as the event begins to take place. This can be the benefit of doing work in therapy, so you can take what you learn and apply it to circumstances outside of sessions.

The Preconscious And Therapy

The preconscious may play a large role in psychotherapy. Therapists often ask questions about their clients’ lives, which frequently helps them with their preconscious memories. This can help clients combine memories in their preconscious with new lessons to create solutions that lead to important changes. 

Memory recall can be difficult for those experiencing a variety of mental health disorders – including depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, and others – but a licensed therapist can help improve memory and reduce undesirable symptoms. 

Benefits Of Online Therapy

Finding time to fine-tune your awareness can prove difficult if you lead a busy life. This is where online therapy may help. In general, you won’t have to travel in traffic to a therapist’s office and sit in a waiting room. You’ll likely be able to schedule convenient sessions outside of typical office hours as well.

Although there’s currently not much research regarding online therapy’s efficacy in utilizing the preconscious mind, a literature review has shown that online therapy is typically just as effective as face-to-face therapy, and it can treat a variety of mental health concerns. Online therapy may be a consideration for you as you explore the preconscious mind and how it works in your adult life.

Counselor Reviews

“Angie is amazing. She has really helped me voyage through my feelings this year and come out more conscious and present. She mixes up the sessions with different approaches which surface feelings and helps me to realize what’s happening for me. She has a warm friendly approach which makes me very comfortable and open. I highly recommended Angie’s support.” 

“I really appreciate Christal working with me. She has brought awareness of things that I haven't been able to see. I like working with her because she is direct and compassionate. I feel confident in her knowledge and expertise.” 

Takeaway

The preconscious can play an important role in learning how to work through problems and improve mental health. For instance, it can help you in daily life by helping you store memories, problem-solve, and maintain a sense of intuitive understanding. An online or in-person therapist may help you work through problems using the preconscious mind by identifying connections between your memories, fine-tuning your awareness, and helping you learn from past experiences.

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