Monday, August 22, 2011

The Relational Animal

By Mark Childley, LMHC, CAP
Certified Practitioner, Rapid Resolution Therapy

I recently heard a wonderful teleconference with Dan Siegel, author of "The Developing Mind and Parenting from the Inside Out." Ideas from his latest, "The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician's Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration," were the substance of the teleconference.

Siegel distinguishes mind from brain and regularly questions mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, if they ever heard a lecture in which mind was defined. The answer is usually none have, which is incredible - it would be as incredible as osteo surgeons going through years of medical school and practice, doing replacements, amputations, reconstructions, etc., without ever having heard a definition of a "joint." Siegel defines mind as an embodied, relational, emergent, self-organizing process which regulates the flow of energy and information.

In Siegel's thinking, mind is inherently relational. There's no such thing as a mind developing on its own. In fact, research by Allan Schore and others indicates if an attuned relationship is unavailable for long periods early in life, the entire right side of the brain (the embodied part of mind) won't develop - at least normally. Siegel emphasized how radical and threatening the idea of a relational mind continues to be - that our minds are not our sole possession, something ultimately of our own making, is deeply foreign to Western thinking. What is new is how profoundly dependent on relationships we are for not just psychological operations but physical development of the brain itself. That we differentiate not "from" but "with" others who love us (differentiation and dependence being different sides of the same coin, not opposite ends of a continuum). And that our mind is hardwired to go into alarm when we are cut off or in isolation, which throws a light on attachment and the injuries to it. Mind is not primary and ultimately dominant over relationships. What's happening in relationships is the primary mover that shapes our minds and sets up capacities that will affect us for the rest of our lives.

Another concept which Siegel finds important is integration. Integration he says, throughout all of nature, is the heart of health. Integration is where different parts are allowed to be themselves, and when so allowed, linkage is naturally promoted between the parts, for the greater good of the system. Whether it is a brain, another organ system of the body, a family, or a whole society, this principle of health is central. Where it is blocked, any natural system, human or otherwise, will move toward chaos or rigidity or both. He says the whole of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) can be seen as various forms of impaired integration-mind tending toward either rigidity, chaos, or both.

Siegel teaches that compassion is the action of integration. Where integration shows up, compassion is always moving organisms with regard for separateness of entities, but also the possibilities of linking up, of influencing each other for the good. He says people can be taught how to monitor the flow of energy and information in their bodies and in their relationships (mindfulness), and as these modifications progress over time toward more and more integration you get a healthier person who is having a healthier influence on those around him.

Focused attention and mindful awareness is to therapy as what a scalpel is to a surgeon and is what the therapist brings to the meeting. Focusing attention changes the mind, strengthening some neural circuits or creating new ones.

All this has helped deepen my understanding of what is going on in the connection phase of Rapid Resolution Therapy. The mind of therapist and client are relational and influence each other, and moment by moment, the opportunity this relatedness opens up is electric in all its potential. The two are both monitoring the flow of energy and information, with differing degrees of competence, and it is incumbent on the therapist to bring the scalpel of mindful awareness and focused attention to the possibilities for using that energy and, looking through a different lens, tapping into new information. When the client has a felt sense (a bodily experience) that the therapist "gets" them, that they matter and have value, a door starts to open. And if they begin to see that at least the therapist sees a model - a representation of and destination for the self that is healthy and new, and that it's possible to get there - shared energy and information shifts and flows in a whole new way. There is a linkage that occurs and new forward momentum established that, I'm convinced, strengthens some, or creates new neural pathways in the brain (my internal image of this is jumping into crystal clear mountain stream with a good buddy). It is brought about by compassion, the effective action of the integration already held by the therapist, extended to the client, in which the client joins in. The door opens a little wider, then wider still, and then blows wide open. All sorts of powerful things start happening.

Mark A. Chidley, LMHC, CAP, a fully licensed mental health counselor and certified addictions professional, offers counseling services at his office Kelly San Carlos Executive Center in Fort Myers, Florida. He received his education at The University of Iowa, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the University of South Florida. He has been in private practice since 1997. He holds certifications in Rapid Trauma Resolution (2010), Imago Relationship therapy (2001), and now specializes in the treatment of couples as well as individual trauma recovery and anxiety issues. He brings rich experience from a combined 26 years of hospital work and mental health counseling. He is married and has three children.

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