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Clinical Implications of Unconscious Processing

By: , Posted on: January 26, 2015

Warren Tryon Snow FeaturedPrinciple 1, as presented in my book, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory, concerns unconscious processing. I represented this principle in Blogs 13, 14, 15, and 16 (click here for link to my blog archive).

Activations in real and artificial neural networks spread automatically and unconsciously across multiple layers of real and simulated neurons. While we become conscious of some of the results of such processing we remain unaware of most of what our brains do. The clinical implications of the incontrovertible neuroscience fact of unconscious processing, expressed as Principle 1, are enormous and can’t be overstated!

The first major implication of Principle 1 is that it requires psychological science to undergo a paradigm shift from our present conscious-centric orientation to an unconscious-centric orientation. This shift is consistent with the long history of belief in unconscious processing that preceded Freud that I review in my book beginning on page 399. Freud popularized but did not discover unconscious processing. Hence, one can endorse unconscious processing without accepting what Freud and his followers said about it.

The second major implication of Principle 1 is that it theoretically integrates the psychodynamic and behavioral perspectives, two opposing world views, through neuroscience. This is a form of Hegelian synthesis where the psychodynamic and behavioral perspectives comprise thesis and anti-thesis and the Bio«Psychology Network (BPN) explanatory system presented in Section 1 of my book comprises their synthesis (syn-thesis). That the BPN explanatory system is also a cognitive theory that is fully consistent with the pharmacologic clinical orientation is all the more remarkable. The BPN explanatory system provides clinicians with a theoretical basis for the comprehensive clinical practice that they are likely already engaged in despite expressed allegiance to one particular clinical orientation.

A related matter concerns the concept of insight. It was once largely defined in terms of accessing and understanding unconscious thoughts, feelings, and actions and a therapeutic goal of only the psychodynamic clinical orientation. However, recent developments have defined insight in terms of psychological mindedness which makes insight a goal for all psychotherapists. I discuss this matter on page 436 of my book as follows:

The link between psychological mindedness and psychoanalytic insight is made especially clear by the Insight Scale published in the appendix to a report by Johansson et al. (2010) concerning ‘The mediating role of insight for long-term improvements in psychodynamic therapy’. The positive features of their insight scale share many of the characteristics of psychological mindedness. In their view, treatments that promote psychological mindedness promote insight. Shill and Lumley (2002) similarly discussed psychological mindedness as a desirable therapeutic outcome. In sum, psychologically minded people can understand and discuss relationships among thoughts, feelings, and actions regarding themselves and others. They are said to have insight. What therapist does not want to help their clients better understand relationships between their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors regarding themselves and other people? Insight is surely a common goal for all psychotherapies (bold font in the original).

I devote all of Chapter 9 of my book to the clinical implications of unconscious processing. Not all of this material is supportive of the psychodynamic perspective. In particular, I focus on the inescapable hard psychodynamic prediction of symptom substitution and the complete lack of supporting evidence plus massive contradictory evidence provided on pages 416 to 429 of my book. The inescapable prediction of symptom substitution derives from the psychodynamic view that symptoms are generated by unconscious processes that seek conscious expression but are thwarted and transformed into symptoms by ego defenses. Symptomatic treatments fail to address these unconscious conflicts that persist and resurface as other symptoms. This view explains why psychodynamic clinicians viewed, and many still view and resist behavioral treatments, as simplistic and misguided. The problem with this perspective is that not only is there no supportive evidence for it, there is a large and growing body of evidence that contradicts it. We therefore need to completely rethink the role of unconscious processing in psychopathology.

In my next blog I consider the clinical implications of Principle 2: Learning and Memory.

Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy coverRead more from Warren Tryon:

Warren’s book, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory is available for purchase on the Elsevier Store. Use discount code “STC215” at checkout and save up to 30% on your very own copy.

About the Author

Warren ComputerWarren W. Tryon received his undergraduate degree from Ohio Northern University in 1966. He was enrolled in the APA approved Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at Kent State University from 1966 – 1970. Upon graduation from Kent State, Dr. Tryon joined the Psychology Department faculty at Fordham University in 1970 as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1977 and to Full Professor in 1983. Licensed as a psychologist in New York State in 1973, he joined the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology in 1976, became a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) in 1984, was promoted to Fellow of Division 12 (Clinical) of the American Psychological Association in 1994 and a fellow of the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology in 1996. Also in 1996 he became a Founder of the Assembly of Behavior Analysis and Therapy.

In 2003 he joined The Academy of Clinical Psychology. He was Director of Clinical Psychology Training from 1997 to 2003, and presently is in the third and final year of phased retirement. He will become Emeritus Professor of Psychology in May 2015 after 45 years of service to Fordham University. Dr. Tryon has published 179 titles, including 3 books, 22 chapters, and 140 articles in peer reviewed journals covering statistics, neuropsychology, and clinical psychology. He has reviewed manuscripts for 45 journals and book publishers and has authored 145 papers/posters that were presented at major scientific meetings. Dr. Tryon has mentored 87 doctoral dissertations to completion. This is a record number of completed dissertations at the Fordham University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and likely elsewhere.

His academic lineage is as follows. His mentor was V. Edwin Bixenstein who studied with O. Hobart Mowrer at the University of Illinois who studied with Knight Dunlap at Johns Hopkins University who studied with Hugo Munsterberg at Harvard University who studied with Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig.

Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory is Dr. Tryon’s capstone publication. It is the product of more than a quarter of a century of scholarship. Additional material added after this book was printed is available at This includes chapter supplements, a color version of Figure 5.6, and a thirteenth “Final Evaluation” chapter. He is on LinkedIn and Facebook. His email address is

This blog and all others by Dr. Warren Tryon can be found on his Fordham faculty webpage.


  1. Johansson, P., Høglend, P., Ulberg, R., Amlo, S., Marble, A., Bøgwald, K. P., Sorbye, Ø., Sjaastad, M. C., & Heyerdahl, O. (2010). The mediating role of insight for long-term improvements in psychodynamic therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78, 438-448.
  2. Shill, M. A., & Lumley, M. A. (2002). The Psychological Mindedness Scale: Factor structure, convergent validity and gender in a nonpsychiatric sample. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 75, 131–150.

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