Sigmund Freud developed the concept of the preconscious to characterize ideas, memories, and beliefs that are unconscious at a particular moment, but are not repressed. These thoughts can be accessed through careful examination of a person’s psyche, most often through psychotherapy. In contemporary psychology, preconscious thoughts are treated as ideas that are readily accessible but that are not being actively thought about. These ideas are part of normal long-term memory. For example, the name of your third grade teacher is likely part of your preconscious memory, but reading this sentence might cause you to recall the name of that teacher.
Role in Memory
Most memories are preconscious; they are not currently being thought about but can easily be accessed with the right memory trigger. Preconscious memories are by definition long-term memories. Short-term memories are memories held for brief periods of time–usually only a few seconds–that must be rehearsed to be recalled. Long-term memories have been fully encoded and remain part of memory even when they are not contemplated for long periods of time.
Role in Psychotherapy
Much of psychotherapy aims at accessing a person’s preconscious. Good therapists are able to make educated guesses about memories that might be relevant to a person’s problems or that might help a person understand better coping skills. By carefully questioning clients about their lives, therapists can help clients access preconscious memories. For example, a man with an anger management problem might begin speaking about his father’s anger. After discussing the anger of his father, he might realize that he has the same frightening effect on his children that his father had on him. His memories of his father’s anger are not repressed, and he is aware of his own anger management problem, but by combining these two preconscious ideas, he is able to develop an incentive for meaningful change.
- American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
- Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Last Updated: 08-18-2015