New Writing on E-CENT Counselling

Models of Mind and Behaviour for Counsellor and Psychotherapists

by Dr Jim Byrne, October 2016

On this web page, I will make available, over a period of time, a series of eBooks on Models of Mind.  These eBooks will explore how various theorists, from Plato and the Buddha to Freud, Berne, Ellis, Beck and others, explored the inferred mental elements of the human body-mind-environment whole.

The Models of Mind Series (MMS)

MMS eBook No.1: Plato and Freud on the fundamental splits and compartments in the human mind

By Dr Jim Byrne, Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2014-2016


Here is an extract from Plato’s Tripartite model:

Plato’s Tripartite Model of Mind

Plato’s tripartite model of the mind, or soul, is essentially quite simple.  He sees the mind as being split between competing powers, like a charioteer striving to control two conflicted horses. The charioteer is the reasoning faculty in the individual.  The more materialistic ‘horse’ is an expression of our most basic appetites, or our appetitive self.  The third element is a bit more complex.

In two of Plato’s dialogues, in which he features Socrates engaging in conversations with interested others, Plato mentions a model of the human ‘soul’ (or mind).  In this model, the mind is assumed to be split three ways; and is normally referred to as a ‘she’.  In the introduction to the Phaedrus dialogue, Plato writes:

“The soul is immortal, for she is the course of all motion both in herself and in others.  Of her true and divine form it would (take) long to tell, but she may be described in a figure as a composite being made up of a charioteer and a pair of winged steeds.  The steeds of the gods are immortal, but ours are one mortal and the other immortal…” Page 765 Plato (1999)[1].

On page 767, Plato is involved in an argument about whether a non-lover is better than a lover – where ‘lover’ means an older man lusting after a younger man (or boy). He begins by distinguishing between lovers on the basis that their approach to seeking love will be determined by the god that they follow:

“The manner in which they take love is as follows:

“I told you about the charioteer and two steeds, the one a noble animal who is guided by word and admonition only, the other an ill-looking villain who will hardly yield to blow or spur.  Together all three, who are a figure of the soul, approach the vision of love.  And now a conflict begins.  The ill-conditioner steed rushes on to enjoy, but the charioteer, who beholds the beloved with awe, falls back in adoration”.

Plato’s story is long and involved, but, reading between the lines, and reading from several sources, over a number of years, I have reduced his story of the horses and the charioteer to a simple formula.  This is how it goes: Imagine a charioteer (Reason) who has two horses as his sources of pulling power, and they often wish to pull in conflicting directions. The function of the charioteer is to control and regulate the two horses.  The first horse (Spirit or wilfulness) is represented as being black (and sometimes as a tiny image of a lion); and the second horse (Appetite or desire) is represented as being white (and sometimes as a tiny beast).  The charioteer (Reason – represented by a tiny human form) is assumed to have the best chance of being in control if s/he can form an alliance with spirit/will against appetite. (Plato 1999; and Plato 2007)[2].

The use of reason

It is fairly obvious that we humans need to use our capacity to reason, using logical consequences, in order to control our appetites and desires.  Imagine a person who could not control their appetites for food, alcohol, sex and money.  Imagine a person who had an overwhelming desire for revenge against anybody who slighted them in the least.  Their lives would be brief and messy.  And a community of such individuals could not come into substantial existence, as it would self-destruct very quickly as it began to emerge.

How we learn to perform this task – of getting reason (our charioteer) in control of our horses (or appetites and spirit/passion) is probably one of the most important aspects of the enquiry that was begun by Plato.

In the Republic, Part V, Section 2[3], Plato presents a less allegorical description of his model of the human mind.  This is how it goes, as summarized by the editor (Melissa Lane) or translator (Desmond Lee), at the start of the section:

“Plato starts by reasserting the parallel between state (society) and individual; ‘since the qualities of a community are those of the component individuals, we may expect to find three corresponding elements in the individual soul. These will be found in every soul… (Cornford, page126)[4]…” – developed to different degrees.

Plato warns that his presentation will not involve much philosophical precision.  He then “…proceeds to examine the conflict of motives in the individual, and concludes that we cannot, without contradiction, assume the existence of less than three types of motive or impulse in the mind.

“First there is reason, the faculty that calculates and decides;

“Second there is desire or appetite, in the sense of bare physical or instinctive craving.

“There is also a third type of motive, covering … such characteristics as pugnacity, enterprise, ambition, indignation, which are often found in conflict with unthinking impulse”. (Pages 139-140 of Plato, 2007)[5].

… End of extract…


And here is an extract from Freud’s tripartite model, beginning with his exploration of the concept of ‘the unconscious’:

Introducing the ‘unconscious mind’

In Freud (1926), Sigmund Freud outlines the basic model of mind developed in psychoanalysis; and I had hoped to use this chapter (of his book) as a basis for reviewing his id/ego/superego model.  However, in passing he mentions ‘the unconscious’, and so I thought I’d better get the concept out of the way before moving on to the three core elements of the psyche.

Based upon years of earlier research on the mind, we in CENT had already concluded that the counselling client is a non-conscious processor of information.  This is how our position is expressed in the paper on What is CENT?***

“Eleventh (Principle): CENT sees humans as primary non-conscious beings, who operate tacitly, automatically, from layers of cumulative, interpretative experience, stored in the form of schemas and stories, in long-term memory, and permanently beyond direct conscious inspection. At least 95% of all of our daily actions are executed non-consciously and automatically. So change is not easy; delusion is our normal state (i.e. our perceptions of ourselves, others and the world are false to facts); and we project our own ‘stories’ onto our environments, and judge them accordingly. To wake up to a more accurate understanding of life – with our adult-functioning in the driving seat – is not easy, but it is possible.”

But in this work – new thinking on CENT theory – we want to go ‘back to basics’ and rebuild our models from the bottom up.

Four arguments for the existence of the unconscious

I have found three references to ways in which we might infer the existence of a non-conscious part of our mind in Freud (1926).  I also recall reading of a fourth clue, but cannot find it in Freud (1926).

Let me deal with that fourth point first.

Argument 1: Basically, somewhere, Freud argues that the phenomenon of post-hypnotic suggestion is proof of the existence of a non-conscious component of the human mind.  This is so because the hypnotic subject is ‘put under’, and given a suggestion that, at a predetermined point after regaining consciousness, he or she will engage in some quite specific action which makes no sense other than as a predetermined response to a (now) non-conscious suggestion.  Because this phenomenon has been widely practiced and witnessed by many audiences, it does seem to be credible evidence for non-conscious processing of instructions/agreements/actions.

Then, in Freud (1926), Freud presents three additional indicators of the existence of what he calls ‘the unconscious’ and which I call ‘the non-conscious mind’, or, more precisely, the ‘non-conscious aspect or component of mind’.  (And when we think of the conscious and non-conscious components of mind, it is important to note that the conscious component is miniscule – being able to process just a small number of concepts per unit of time – while the non-conscious component appears to be vast, accounting for all of our habitual skills and behaviours).

Argument 2: His first reference is to the idea that “… there are … things that one would not care to admit to oneself: things that one likes to conceal from oneself and which for that reason one breaks off short and drives out of one’s thoughts if, in spite of everything, they turn up”. (Page 11). From this he concludes that: “It looks as though (a person’s) own self were no longer the unity which he had always considered it to be, as though there were something else as well in him that could confront that self.  He may become obscurely aware of a contrast between a self and a mental life in the wider sense…” (Page 11).

Argument 3: Freud’s second reference is to the way in which dreams (which occur when we are no longer conscious) point to some deep, non-conscious processing of images, thoughts and feelings: A non-conscious domain of the mind. (Freud, 1926; Page 15).

Argument 4: His third point about the ‘unconscious’ (which appears on page 19 of Freud, 1926) is this: “The idlest self-observation shows that ideas may occur to us which cannot have come about without preparation.  But you experience nothing of these preliminaries of your thought, though they too must certainly have been of a mental nature; all that enters your consciousness is the ready-made results.  Occasionally you can make these preparatory thought-structures conscious in retrospect, as though in a reconstruction”.


Let us begin with Argument 4:  This proposition by Sigmund Freud has been explored, by Maier (1931), and I made use of Maier’s results in both my Doctoral thesis, and in some of my papers on the development of human personality, and also in my book about the childhood of Dr Albert Ellis.  But let us begin with a review of how the world responded to Freud’s theory of the unconscious:

When Freud proposed the “unconscious mind”, he was derided by philosophers, who considered any mental processing to be necessarily conscious.  (Freud, 1995).  However, there is much modern evidence for the existence of non-conscious information processing, as an essential explanation for human functioning.  (Cf: Bargh and Chartrand, 1999; Gladwell, 2008; Gray, 2003[9]; Maier, 1931[10]; and Haidt, 2006[11]).  I explored that evidence in my doctoral thesis, and summarized much of the results in Byrne (2009e[12]).  Here is a brief extract from that paper:

“…humans are both conscious agents and non-conscious automata.  Not either/or.  Both/and.  At this point in time, it is the proportions of each that matters most to me.  Gray (2003: 66) argues that we are not able to be more conscious of our environmental stimuli because of the small bandwidth of conscious processing of the data of our senses.

“This (bandwidth) is much too narrow to be able to register the information we routinely receive and act on.  As organisms active in the world, we process perhaps 14 million bits of information per second.  The bandwidth of consciousness is around eighteen bits.  This means we have conscious access to about a millionth of the information we daily use to survive”.

That is a startling statistic.  So my research respondents – and my CENT therapy clients – probably have access to about one millionth of the data they routinely process in order to orient and move themselves through their daily environmental challenges.  Not all of this is in principle ‘knowable’ of course, such as how do I beat my own heart?  How am I digesting my food right now?  How much do I need to adjust my blood pressure and body temperature?  And so on.  But Bargh and Chartrand (1999: 464) quote Tice and Baumeister as saying that consciousness “…plays a causal role (in guiding our behaviour) only 5% or so of the time”.  (And Tice and Baumeister were trying to defend consciousness.)


… More…


[1] Plato (1999) PhaedrusIn: The Essential Plato. (Translated by Benjamin Jowett; with an introduction by Alain De Botton).  Book-of-the-Month Club.

[2] Plato (1999) Phaedrus. (References to the charioteer and the horses: pages 767-768, and 815-817).  And:

Plato (2007) The Republic.  Second edition.  Translated by Desmond Lee, with an introduction by Melissa Lane.  London: Penguin Books.

[3] Plato (2007) The Republic.  Second edition.  Translated by Desmond Lee, with an introduction by Melissa Lane.  London: Penguin Books.

[4] The Republic of Plato / translated with introduction and notes by Francis Macdonald Cornford Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941.

[5] Plato (2007) The Republic.  Second edition.  Translated by Desmond Lee, with an introduction by Melissa Lane.  London: Penguin Books.