Exploring the Unconscious Mind, Part 3 - Kimberly Thompson

We have already discovered the intimate bonds between physiology and psychology. We have discovered how there are more ways of knowing than conscious processing. We now need to know how to harness these discoveries to heal from mental, emotional, behavioral, and medical distress. I believe in a multimodal approach to healing: After you have identified what works and what is safe, be open to trying new things to bring yourself back to wellness.

Massage Therapy. Beyond giving you an awesome feel-good experience, massage is thought to powerfully stimulate the body to heal from a variety of psychological issues. Dr. Tiffany Field, at the University of Miami medical school, was the first to produce evidence that massage therapy is effective for depression, anxiety, and even ADHD in both adults and children. She has studied the use of massage in perinatal women as well as infants, finding that both psychological and medical conditions respond well to it. You should be able to find a licensed massage therapist locally with a simple internet search. Find someone with a prenatal certification during pregnancy, or someone with an infant certification for your baby.

Meditation. I am a big fan of learning to meditate. It’s not a panacea for all the world’s ills, but it sure is a good start. Most of us have jobs where our bodies don’t move nearly enough and our minds move way too much. Regular exercise can alleviate the first problem, but it doesn’t do a lot for the second one. So much of anxiety comes from continually scanning the imagined future for problems, threats and danger. So much of depression comes from continually scanning the past for mistakes, failures, and disappointments. Bitterness and grudges grow out of an inability to let go of the past. Control issues, leading to inflexibility and broken relationships, grow out of a general inability to let go. It’s not helpful just to be told, “You need to let that go.” If you knew how to do that, you would. Meditation teaches you how. I teach mindfulness as a part of the therapeutic process, and setting time aside every day for brief meditations helps people learn to be mindful.

Laughter. Back in 2014, I had a cancer scare. As I waited to find out the results from surgery, I declared an “All-Comedy Weekend.” I banned all sad, thrilling, disturbing, and tense media. As I recuperated from surgery, I watched my favorite stand-up comics and discovered new ones. I listened to them on internet radio. I also chose funny movies. It’s hard to feel tense or sad while you’re laughing. There’s a psychological theory that says when you express a certain emotion, it sends a signal back into your body that you actually feel that way. It’s a “fake it til you make it” sort of thing.

Acupuncture. Acupuncture is a controversial treatment for emotional disorders like anxiety and depression, although its uses for other issues such as chronic pain are better-established. There are some scientists that believe that acupuncture is an effective adjunct (or, addition) to more conventional treatments such as psychotherapy. Others doubt that it helps beyond the placebo effect. I discuss the placebo effect below – it is not a “nothing”! If you are wary of taking medication and want to try acupuncture first, please choose a licensed acupuncturist and thoroughly research them before putting yourself in their hands. Take choosing an acupuncturist as seriously as choosing your physician.

Aromatherapy. I am a big believer in the power of scent. Olfactory (scent) memories are stored in the brain somewhat differently than other sensory modalities – which is why you can have an emotional reaction to a scent long before you can identify what the scent is or why you are reacting that way. I regularly use the power of scent to help clients that are agitated or nervous. I have experimented with various types of delivery systems for scents that most women find relaxing, including hand cream, candles, wax warmers, and oil warmers. I am moving toward a diffuser for essential oils, to keep the air cleaner, eliminate artificial ingredients, and make it possible to make custom blends. If you are interested in using essential oils, educate yourself on the risks of using them, particularly about ingestion and their use directly on the skin. Find a certified aromatherapist to guide you whenever possible. For an in-depth review of the use and safety issues surrounding the use of essential oils, I recommend Dr. Andrew Weil’s blog post on the subject. Dr. Weil is an M.D. and also one of the first proponents of integrative medicine in the U.S.

The Placebo Effect. Medical clinical trials are always described as “double blind” – neither the person administering the treatment nor the person receiving the treatment knows whether it is the actual drug or an inactive substitute. This is to control for the placebo effect, or the fact that some people will get better just because they received a treatment – any treatment. In the world of medicine, the placebo effect is something of a nuisance that can interfere with knowing if a drug “really works.” In my world, the placebo effect is the wondrous power of the mind over the body. How awesome is it that people get better just by believing in the treatment! Ethically, it is important that both physicians and psychologists stick to recommending truly effective treatments, avoiding shams and scams. However, it is well-known that the most potent ingredient in psychotherapy is the relationship between client and therapist. The different therapy styles (cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, psychodynamic, humanist-existential, etc.) are all effective if the relationship is good. I suspect that the physician-patient relationship is also an active ingredient in medical healing, far more than is currently acknowledged.

In my last post, I laid out the case for the body being the unconscious mind. At the molecular level, the body responds to thoughts, emotions, and attitudes. The placebo effect is probably the most well-known body/mind phenomenon. There is something powerful about believing that something is going to help you, over and above the active ingredients in the treatment itself. So I encourage you to experiment with what works to relieve your emotional pain – as long as you remember that anything you do can have unintended consequences (aka, side effects). Educate yourself so that you are not exposing yourself to harm, including the harm that comes from investing large amounts of money for tiny benefits!

The methods I have discussed in this blog post are best used as additives to psychotherapy and (when appropriate) medication, rather than substitutes for them. Once you have achieved a certain amount of self-knowledge through a course of psychotherapy, you may be able to delay or even prevent a relapse of symptoms by using one or more of these additives as part of a healthy lifestyle.


I am Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a licensed psychologist living and working in Lubbock, TX. I work exclusively with women and their children, to help them develop vibrant emotional, behavioral, and relationship health. My particular expertise is with women during pregnancy and the postpartum period, but I enjoy working with women throughout their life cycle. If you live within driving distance of Lubbock, you can work with me in person. If you live elsewhere in Texas, you can work with me through online therapy. Simply call my office at (806) 224-0200 and request an initial phone consultation. You can also send a secure message directly from my website. Subscribers to The Mommy Mentor website receive blog posts as they are released, as well as newsletters and important announcements. I am committed to producing quality content that helps mothers and their families live well.