Sigmund Freud’s theory of the mind is a key concept in mental health, and has shaped the way that several talking therapies conduct their approach to this day.

His theory proposes that there are three parts of the mind – the Unconscious, the Conscious, and the Preconscious.

The conscious and preconscious mind are closely related, but there are some important differences – as we cover in this article.

A visual representation of the levels of the mind in terms of an iceberg

Freud’s Theory of the Mind

Freud used an iceberg to explain his theory of the mind. When a person sees an iceberg, they can only see what is above the water, and are therefore unaware of what is under the water.

Freud argues that this is like the human mind. A person can only see a small amount, the rest lies underwater. The tip of the iceberg refers to the conscious mind, with the remainder of the iceberg out of view under the water – which refers to the unconscious mind.

One is never truly aware of how much of the iceberg is out of view – the unconscious mind may be very, very deep.

The other area is the middle-ground of the two – and known as the pre-conscious. It is the part of the iceberg that is mainly submerged below the water, yet still visible from above.

The Relationship

The conscious mind and preconscious mind are closely aligned. The conscious mind refers to all of the things that a person is aware of, and actively thinking about.

The preconscious mind includes things that a person knows, but is not needed all of the time. When a person does need such information, the preconscious is able to push this information into the conscious mind.

A good example is a password to a website. When an individual is going about their daily routine, it would be incredibly odd for them to be constantly thinking about the password to their favourite website – so it isn’t in the conscious mind.

But when they come to logon to a website, they then think of the password, which means the conscious mind pulls the information out of the preconscious mind.

So while the conscious mind is more focused with short-term areas and is of limited capacity, the preconscious mind has a seemingly unlimited capacity, and includes regular memories and knowledge that can be called upon when needed.

When a person consciously makes an effort to remember something, this information will normally be quickly pushed into the conscious by the preconscious.

The preconscious can act as a buffer to the conscious, and therefore only let in certain information that is relevant. The preconscious therefore has a very important job, and is great at keeping our mind running in a logical and coherent fashion.

Mental health implications

Freud’s theory of the mind links closely with his overall theory on Psychoanalysis. He argued that when the preconscious mind is unable to stop certain thoughts or memories from the unconscious mind, they can surface in unusual ways, such as slips of the tongue, or influencing dreams.

It is areas like these that Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis uses to try and process unconscious thoughts and feelings in a positive way – which lessens mental distress.

Freud argues that there are various techniques that can be used to try and bring unconscious content to the conscious mind – as covered in this article.


The mind is clearly a very important part of mental health. While Freud’s theories aren’t universally popular, his ideas on the mind do make some sense.

What is most important though is that anyone going through a difficult time mentally has support to come to terms with their problems – regardless of which part of the mind they supposedly reside in.

See Also


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