Recent Blog Articles

Ask the doctor: Unconscious or subconscious: Which is the correct term?

October 1, 2011

Q. I've always used the word subconscious when talking about thoughts that are buried. But someone corrected me recently and said unconscious is the correct term. Have I been using the wrong word?

A. The term unconscious (or unconscious mind) is most closely associated with Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis, although the general notion goes back much further. For Freud, however, the idea that memories, feelings, and other mental content outside conscious awareness could affect people took on a new, practical significance. It was a key element of the theory he developed to explain the causes of mental disorders and how to treat them. Put in the simplest terms, Freud theorized that hidden mental contents caused many mental health problems. As he understood it, those mental contents had been "repressed" and, in some sense, forced into the unconscious. Freud's route to health was to unearth them.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »

I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.

Sign Me Up

Already a member? Login ».

Disclaimer:

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.