CBT, Consciousness, and our Unconscious Processes

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CBT Certificate Program / Clinical Skills / Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT, Consciousness, and our Unconscious Processes

In a previous article, we explained that the most important and significant ingredient in CBT [1] is Consciousness. We explained that Consciousness is related to awareness, insight, and living a conscious life. Consciousness, therefore, comprises of both that which is unconscious and that which is conscious. And the only difference between the two is that one is automatic, reflective, involuntary, or simply “unconscious”; while the other one is voluntary, intentional, deliberate, or simply “conscious.” All this can create confusion for clinicians or scholars unless the following is fully understood:

The problem is not that something is “unconscious.” For example, the beating of our heart, our breathing activity, digestion, or even our gland production, all are example of unconscious processes in our life. They are unconscious because they take place automatically, reflexively, and involuntarily [2]. Are we not glad they do? Can you imagine if we had to ensure that our heart beat at least 70 times a minute, or that we are breathing in and out 12-16 times a minute? Let’s just say we seem to be better off letting these parts of our unconscious processes be.

However, because they are unconscious it does not mean we do not have a say. To have a say means we can affect these unconscious processes, we can adjust them, and we can modify them. We can choose right now to hold our breath. We can start doing some jumping jacks and increase our heart rate to 100 beats per minute. We can also speed up our digestive process by taking a walk after eating. All these are conscious activities that lead to a change, modification, or adjustment of unconscious activities. Now, this is more important than it may sound. For having as many of our processes as possible to be unconscious can be a very efficient way to live. However, the blueprint for these automatic processes is what makes the biggest difference.

Let us elaborate:

  1. We have two types of Blueprints: Our Ordinary Blueprint, and our Natural Blueprint
  2. Our Ordinary Blueprint comprises of a triad: A. Our genetic make-up; B. Our experience and environment; C. The process of Epigenetics
  3. When we are born, we automatically inherit the genetic make-up of our parents, grandparents, great grandparents, ancestors, and beyond 
  4. The Blueprint that is used for unconscious processes therefore is our Ordinary Blueprint, that is primarily based on our inherited genetic make-up
  5. All our genes are not expressed. In fact, less than 10% of our genes are expressed; and these less then 10% that are expressed can have their expression modified through the process of epigenetics
  6. When we are born, the Ordinary Blueprint that our unconscious processes are using are all based on our inherited genetic make-up, the composition of this Ordinary Blueprint starts to change as we start having experiences, as we are exposed more to the environment, and as we start exploring and using our senses
  7. As our exposure to experiences and environment becomes significant enough, the process of epigenetics will then become an intermediary to interact with our genes to then modify our Ordinary Blueprint that our unconscious processes have been using
  8. If the experiences or environment that we are exposed to, are life promoting or are at least more life promoting than our expressed inherited gene, then through the process of epigenetics, our Ordinary Blueprint will adjust itself and our unconscious processes, in turn, will address themselves accordingly. This means advancement in all our unconscious processes, be it, physical processes, mental processes, behaviors, or habits. This also means, advancement in our results, in our identity, looping back to our belief systems and our Ordinary Blueprint, reinforcing it, accordingly.
  9. If, on the other hand, the experiences or environment that we are exposed to, are life interfering or are at least more life interfering than our expressed inherited gene, then through the process of epigenetics, our Ordinary Blueprint will adjust itself and our unconscious processes, in turn, will adjust themselves accordingly. This means regression in all our unconscious processes, be it, physical processes, mental processes, behaviors, or habits. This also means, regression in our results, in our identity, looping back in our belief systems and our Ordinary Blueprint, reinforcing it, accordingly.
  10. Our Ordinary Blueprint is not static. With new exposed experiences and environment, our epigenetics mediates interactions between them and our inherited expressed genes for new gene expression, remodeled Ordinary Blueprint, and therefore for a reshaped template for our unconscious processes.

Due to our unconscious processes, what environment we expose ourselves to or what environment or conditions we put ourselves into may also be done automatically. However, because our unconscious processes which automate our experiences, environment, or conditions, are not fixed, we can always change them. We can always expose ourselves to new experiences, new environments, or new conditions.

For this we need to realize:

  1. The types of results we are having in the different areas of our life, and whether this is really what we are consciously choosing or not
  2. Be willing to choose different results in our life and decide to do so at once
  3. Know that while we were born with a certain set of inherited expressed genes, we are not stuck with them, we can change our gene expression, and it all starts with new experiences, new environment, and new conditions
  4. The primer for each of our experiences, conditions, or for each environment we’re exposed to is our thought
  5. Our thought is the only Operant Factor, and this is what creates the action potential and catalyzes the process of epigenetics, mediating interaction between new conditions and our expressed genes, leading to new gene expression, and modifying our Ordinary Blueprint. As a reminder, the modification of Our Ordinary Blueprint may be a form of advancement if the new conditions are life promoting; while it may also be a form of regression if the new conditions are life interfering [3].

The above serve as a foundation for the subsequent articles in this series, where we are going to be speaking about Consciousness and CBT. For now, we would like you to remember the following:

  1. There are different levels of consciousness
  2. The moment we start operating from a level of Consciousness, this operation becomes automatic and happens involuntary, reflexively, “unconsciously,”
  3. Since all levels of consciousness we operate from eventually become automated or “unconscious,” the real question is not whether we are operating “consciously,” or “unconsciously;” rather whether we are aware of which unconscious processes we are operating from.

This level of awareness is crucial, liberating, and can make all the difference in CBT [4] or in any other treatment modalities that we may be using with our patients.

Be on the lookout for our subsequent articles in this series, entitled CBT and Consciousness. Meanwhile, here are a few questions for you to think about:

  1. If you were to look at the different results in the different areas of your life, which ones would you like to elevate or advance?
  2. What types of conditions, thoughts or levels of consciousness do you think may have been maintaining the unconscious processes generating these results?
  3. What new conditions, thoughts, or levels of consciousness are required as new primer for our Ordinary Blueprint to have new substance for our unconscious processes?

The above three questions will become clearer as we continue with our articles in this series. Let us stay in the elevator. And until soon,

Karen and Mardoche

P.S. Please join us for our CBT module on CBT and Emotions, scheduled for March 3rd, 7pm EST. We look forward to welcoming you.


  1. Sidor, Mardoche, and Karen Dubin-McKnight. The Most Important Ingredient in CBT. 22 Dec. 2020, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pain-loss-and-suffering/202012/the-most-important-ingredient-in-cbt.
  2. Bargh, J. A., & Chartrand, T. L. (1999). The unbearable automaticity of being. American Psychologist, 54, 462-476.
  3. Wilson, T. D. (2002). Strangers to ourselves: Discovering the adaptive unconscious. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  4. “Unconscious Thinking and Feeling – And Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.” Open Textbooks for Hong Kong, 23 Nov. 2015, www.opentextbooks.org.hk/ditatopic/35893.