The Relevance of the Brain for Psychotherapy (and Vice Versa), With Particular Reference to Human Development

Paul Grobstein
Department of Biology, Bryn Mawr College

2005 Conference: Issues and Challenges in Child and Adolescent Mental Health
Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research
8 April 2005

on-line forum:

Alternate title:

Psychotherapists, social workers, biologists, neuroscientists UNITE. We have nothing to lose but our chains ... The Mind and Self as Material Entities
The Brain - is wider than the Sky -
For - put them side by side -
The one the other will contain
With ease - and You - beside-

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Problems and prospects of starting with assumption that neurobiologists and psychotherapists are exploring/manipulating the same thing:

Finding the Self: saying good bye to the mind/body and biology/culture dichotomies?

Not mind and body, not biology and culture but ....
Body with nervous system inside with part of nervous system inside that, all influenced by genes, all surrounded by (among other things) culture (itself influenced by genes)
Self is ....

Within the Nervous System: An Unconscious/Conscious Distinction
The unconscious as fundamental, rather than derivitive
Is that about oneself which, at any given time, one doesn't know ...
Distinction between neurobiological and psychodynamic unconscious necessary?

The Bipartite Brain/Mind - a distinctive architecture

Updating Freud: there is no way in other than through the unconscious

Finding Common Cause in Story-Telling?

Conscious/experiencer/"story teller" as a distinct part of the nervous system (neocortex) having a distinctive kind of organization


Working Together to Make Sense of Conflict?

How make sense of "repression", "projection", "transference", of conflict in general (intra-personal and interpersonal) ... and of therapeutic efficacy?

Intrapersonal conflict = differences between unconscious and story? evident in behavior, sometimes also in internal experience (Nash)

Can result from combinations of

Task of psychotherapist:

Conflict = differences between individuals, between individuals and culture?

One case in point ...

From Jenny Boylan:

Using biology/neurobiology to move forward ...

The Medical ModelThe Biological/Neurobiological Model
presumption of "illness" as distinct category

presumption of perfectibility

presumption of all people as aspiring to same "ideal"

presumption of "patient" as object

search for efficient "quick fix" therapies

neglects (particularly for "mental health") to deal with important issues of personal responsibility, cultural influences

accepts existence of continuous variation among individuals, both now and in future - indeed encourages diversity

emphasizes importance of innate influences, as well of experience and of personal choice

acknowledges that some kinds of changes take extended time at best, may not be achievable at worst

incorporates cultural context dependence

helps to define both potentials and limits of personal responsibility


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