Over the past several decades innovations in brain science have confirmed much of what therapists intuitively understand about our emotional life and the healing power of relationships. New brain imaging technology has provided a window on the neurophysiological underpinnings of conscious and, more importantly, unconscious mental functioning. As a result, we are beginning to better understand how relationships and brain processes are actively and mutually influential. It’s becoming clearer that attachment experiences, including those that develop in ongoing psychotherapy, shape the ways in which our brains process information.
From the beginning, psychoanalysts have striven to acquire the fullest and deepest understanding of how to help patients alleviate suffering and opitimize their personal growth. Having concrete, scientific information on the brain’s role in our subjective experiences offers more ways to demonstrate the unique benefits of our work to other health professionals, patients, prospective candidates, policy makers, and the general public. This growing body of brain research interfaces with clinical work, as well as developmental and psychoanalytic theory.
Sigmund Freud, who originally trained in neurology, was aware of the limitations of his era in understanding brain functioning. He “knew that any attempt to bring together neurology and psychoanalysis would be premature (although he himself made a last attempt at this time in his 1895 “Project” which he left unpublished in his lifetime)” (Solms and Turnbull, 2002, p. vii-viii). It was not until the late 20th century, when MRI and PET scans have allowed us to see the brain in action, that neural science began to address such core concepts from psychoanalysis as drives, defenses, unconscious processes, memory and the role of trauma in shaping both the brain and psychological experience.