What is the Self?
The most widely
used term and most elusive concept in psychology
(1890) said that itÕs the fundamental concept in psychology around which all
we talk about self-esteem, self-actualization, self-activation, self-concept,
The Self has many
facets; In my fatherÕs
house are many rooms (John 14:2)
psychologists and philosophers have made clear, the self is an
elusive concept at best.
Campbell said about God, itÕs difficult to use language to describe something
that is indescribable.
ÒSelfÓ suffers from the same limitation.
Something so complex that simple descriptions
donÕt do it justice.
Self requires us to step outside our comfort zone.
ÒWho is the I who knows the bodily me,Ó
he asked, Òwho has an image of myself and sense of identity over time, who
knows that I have propriate strivings?Ó (Allport, 1961, p. 61).
suggested that the Òuniversal conscious fact is not ÒfeelingsÓ and ÒthoughtsÓ
but ÒI feelÓ and ÒI think.Ó
neuroscience has sought to find the neural representation of the self in the
brain—or at least identify the brain modules, or systems, or
networks that generate self-representations or mediate self-referential
processing. But unlike vision, what and where appear to be independent
questions, it appears that, with regard to the self, the what question has to
be answered before the where question. Without some sense of how the self and
self-referential processes are represented mentally, at the psychological level
of analysis, efforts to find the self in the brain will likely prove fruitless
The Whole is Greater
Than the sum of
its parts – The mind is the expression of the brain in relation to the
body (and possibly other brains/bodies/minds).
Two way street
– changes in the brain affects the mind; and changing the mind changes
However, a brain is not the
only game in town. Even singled
celled organisms can have a very rudimentary sense of self. They even show primitive emotions
(moving toward or away from a stimulus).
Plants also show fairly complex ÒSelfÓ behavior without a brain. However, our ancestors
took a different route, developing a more and more complex brain, and as a
result concepts of the ÒSelfÓ are equally complex(Damasio, Self
Comes Into Mind, 2011)
Why Understand the Brain?
Many of the areas
therapists target in their work involves, cognition, emotion, memory, behavior,
which are all regulated within the brain.
neuroscience have resulted in a more nuanced understanding of the brain and its functioning, and
therefore we can now better hypothesize the neurological correlates to our
work as psychotherapists.
of psychotherapy and the change process have been supported by neuroscience
Many aspects of
our theories have been updated or replaced based on brain science.
The Triune Brain
Described by McLean in
brain from an evolutionary perspective
arousal, homeostatis and reproduction
Brain (Cerebral Cortex)
problem solving and self-awareness
The Structure of
the Brain in Your Hand
by Dan Siegel, MD. (https://youtu.be/gm9CIJ74Oxw)
Executive functions /
Automatic life-sustaining functions
Much of who we
are is handed down to us via our genetic history. Many psychiatric illnesses have a
genetic basis (depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc.)
However genes not
only have a template function (information to be passed on to next
generation), but they also have a transcription function (synthesis of
directly influenced by experience.
Experience effects the expression of genetic programing
complete set brain structures, but not the connections
– Experienced Based Development
Require both specific genes and environmental factors (eg, abuse, neglect)
GABA and Anxiety:
Recent study showing that domestic violence during pregnancy results in
methylation of GABA receptor genes which causes dysfunction of GABA processes in
brain. This has been correlated
with increased anxiety and risk for violence. These genetic changes have been
documented 15 years after birth.
Specific Brain Structures
Cortex: Executive Functions – Modulator and integrator between affective and cognitive
Emotion centers of brain
Explicit memory (encoding and retrieval)
Cingulate: Attachment, attention, reward-based learning, autonomic arousal
Integration of inner & outer experience, empathy, compassion
L/R hemisphere communication
Cingulate Gyrus: Control of
emotions and attention
that psychotherapy involves changing cognition, emotional functioning, behaviors,
and this involves a concomitant change in neural functioning.
changes the brain - Neuroplasticity
interventions to specific neural capacities.
Brain is constantly changing
connections lead to new or changed neural connections.
We canÕt not
affect one another.
The ability to
continue to develop new neural pathways throughout the lifespan – allows
genetics and the environment to interact in brain development; the
specific experiences an infant encounters will trigger a cascade of specific
neuro-biochemical reactions that can enhance or block gene expression; thus,
experience continues to change the structure of the brain across the lifespan,
making every human brain unique (Davino & Moore,
Neural Capacities & Psychotherapy
Affect and affect
á Mirror Neurons
empathy and interpersonal processes
á Prefrontal Cortex
functions and interpersonal relationships
á Von Economo Neurons
Knowing self and
Old View of Brain
superior to emotion
emotion were separate processes
New View of Brain
emotion are inextricably linked
CanÕt have one
without the other
Sometimes we need
more than one than the other to constructively problem-solve.
Which one that is
will vary from situation to situation
One of the
capacities of the Prefrontal Cortex is ÒCognitive FlexibilityÓ – The
ability to move off of set and apply different strategies to changing demands.
Presuppositions about Emotion
feeling are two different processes
Emotion occurs in
the body, feeling in the prefrontal cortex
generally unlearned reactions to events that cause a change in the state of the
Emotions help us
solve problems or endorse opportunities
survival and state of well-being
activating/calming, approach /withdraw
Primary, background and social
Presuppositions about Feeling
when we are consciously aware that we are having an emotion
Feelings allow us
to make thoughtful decisions about how to respond to emotion –
they allow choice
Feeling allows us
to consciously connect the stimulus with the emotion
Feelings have the
possibility of revealing Ògood for lifeÓ and Ònot good for lifeÓ states
for control of the expression or response to emotion
Sensory input or
attention (can be external or internal)
evaluation (Is this good for life or bad for life?) – Thinking Fast and
Source Point in
the brain (eg, amygdala,
ventral medial frontal cortex)
response (eg, change in
facial expression, language, other behaviors)
No Choice – Not Conscious
Different Types of Emotion
Disgust, Surprise, Sadness and Happiness
Good or bad and
everything in between
Compassion, Gratitude, Guilt, Pride, Awe, Love
Social within the
context of social relationships
One type can
affect the other - Layering
an awareness of a change in the body.
to us this change
labeling that change into emotional terms (anger versus hunger)
Feelings allow us
to identify the stimulus or reason for the emotion
long enough to decide the best way to respond (PFC –
long enough to reflect – rather needing to act right away (PFC –
The process of
moving from an activated state to one of calm – well-being
ItÕs the solution
to the emotion – either solving a problem or taking advantage of an opportunity
types of affect regulation
the Family for the Holidays
To go or not to go, that is the
Do we sleep at
your motherÕs or at a hotel?
I canÕt talk to
your father, heÕs angry all the time!
He canÕt help himself, he was
traumatized as a child.
Response Focused Regulation
responding to the affect
Seek help or
antecedent and response focused)
eating, drugs, alcohol, aggression, violence, withdrawal, devaluing verbally,
Working with Emotion in Therapy
Depending on your
own relationship to emotion, you may either welcome it or move away from it.
emotion from the past is not as robust an agent of change as working with
emotion in the present.
material about the difference between emotion and feeling may be helpful, but
In the present,
working with emotion is less predictable, less safe and more real and personal.
ItÕs the kind of
á ÒEverything in
life is memory; save for the thin edge of the present.Ó Michael Gazzaniga, 2000 (The
Short Term Memory
Long Term Memory
Making & Retrieving Memories
surrounding cortex of the mdial temporal lobes
is essential to making and retrieving memories.
the hippocampus links together information from other parts of the brain
– visual, auditory, sensory, etc. – into a memory trace
the hippocampus triggers these memory traces; so starts the process of recall;
usually with a part of the memory.
The rest of the memory gets reactivated in time. This process involves a reactivation of
a distributed network of representations in the cortex.
Some memories are
easier to recall because of co-occurring emotion or important to sustaining
life. These neural traces become
more consolidated over time, especially the more they are recalled.
traces may overlap with each other.
That way we can make generalizations from one circumstance to another.
For example, mother-son memories may generalize to woman-male intimate memory. If you learned how
to drive in a 50 Chevy Bel Air, you donÕt
want to start all over when you get into 1955 Ford Thunderbird. This overlap allows for knowledge and
associations to bridge across different domains.
remembering strengthens memory. Some researchers
suggest that this can lead to confabulation.
critical to remembering (barista on the bus). Going home for the holidays is likely to
trigger memories rather than going on a trip to a foreign country (unless the
country is family related – Ukraine).
Implicit & Explicit Memory
Involves conscious awareness, at the time of remembering, of the information,
experience or situation being remembered.
Where behavior, feelings or thoughts are influenced as a result of
prior experience, but which is recalled or manifests without conscious
recollection of the original events.
memory, there isnÕt a sense of remembering, just experiencing.
Much of therapy
involves the recollection and experiencing of both types
Priming is a form
of implicit memory; the exposure to an earlier stimulus/event increases the
probability of a response to a later similar stimulus/event.
Table - Complete
a word Tab
include priming – response patterns that become automatic, without
priming – A form of priming that facilitates an insecure to secure-like
responses to stimuli
negative reactions to individual and group differences.
(subliminally or supraliminally) to
security-related words (e.g., love, hug, affection, and support) or the names
of an individualÕs security-providing attachment figures;
(subliminally or supraliminally) to pictures
representing attachment security; and
participants to recall memories of being loved and supported by attachment
figures, or asking people toimagine such scenarios.
Supraliminal priming even overrides the effects of negative self-esteem.
primed without awareness
primed with awareness
Repetition is Key
thickens that neural pathways and makes the new behaviour easier to
between parents and between parent and child.
Therapy is a form
Helping the brain
respond to emotions
processes from therapist
processes: through narratives
Taking in love,
caring and support
Many studies have
consistently documented the inaccuracy of memory. We are prone to confabulation (filling
in the blanks) and simply making up facts in order to make sense of the past.
So when clients
talk about their past, you need to take it with a grain of salt as to the
ÒtruthÓ of the facts.
attachment researchers have an interesting spin on this dynamic.
Attachment Interview is an interview questionnaire that is utilized to
assess attachment status.
Adult Attachment Interview
involve the subjects childhood
relationship and experiences with caregivers. But the actual fact of the relationships
and experiences are not that important.
What matters is the Òcoherence of the narrative.Ó
interview is both believable and true to the listener; in a coherent interview,
the events and affects intrinsic to early relationships are conveyed
without distortion, contradiction or derailment of discourse. The subject
collaborates with the interviewer, clarifying his or her meaning, and working
to make sure he or she is understood.
Such an subject is thinking as the interview proceeds, and is aware
of thinking with and communicating to another; thus coherence and collaboration
are inherently inter-twinned and interrelated.Ó
Creating a Coherent Life Story
From a neurobiological
perspective, coherence involves both thinking (cognition) and feeling
(emotion); seeing the situation from your point of view (self reflection), but
also seeing it from otherÕs point of view (social cognition).
is not as important as making sense of what a person does remember or believes happened
to him or her.
Many memories are
not readily available so how do we even begin to construct a narrative?
Patterns usually persist, so what is remembered can give insight into earlier
siblings, other relatives and friends.
Family photos and
Letters and other
writings from family members
patterns with partners (priming)
Mirror Neurons: Overview
as visual-motor neurons that fire when an action is performed, and when a
similar or identical action is observed (Rizzolatti and Craighero, 2004).
cognitive functions of imitation and action understanding to social cognition.
with MS, schizophrenia, autism and spectrum disorders and alexithymia
(deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotions).
An Example of Mirroring
You are on a bus from
Reno to Lake Tahoe (Highway 50) and you notice the person next to you all of a
sudden looking pale. They start
retching and filling a paper bag with clumps of undigested food. What do you feel? You feel a sense of nausea that one
feels with motion sickness.
When we witness
such experiences we activate;
Mirror neurons in
the insula that would be active if we were experiencing such feelings, and
Mirror neurons in
our premotor and parietal lobe that would be active if were were performing those physical
actions (throwing up).
Are they real?
study by Molenburghs, et al (2011)
studies and 125 that met their strict inclusion
A core network of
human brain regions do in fact possess mirror properties that not
only include action and observation but non-motor activities auditory,
somatosensory and affect.
Are MNÕs relevant to our work?
We are in the
business of watching, listening and feeling others.
otherÕs intentions in relationships
behavior and motivation
Theodor Lipps (1851-1914) is
remembered as the father of the first scientific theory of EinfŸhlung (Òfeeling into,Ó
predecessors, he used the notion of EinfŸhlung to explain not
only how people experience inanimate objects, but also how they understand the
mental states of other people.
In 1903 he
suggested the perception of an emotional gesture in another directly activates the same
emotion in the perceiver, without any intervening labeling, associative, or
cognitive perspective-taking processes.
He called this Òinner imitation.Ó
ideas were eclipsed by experimental psychology and behaviorism, his ideas have found
reflection in present day theories of imitation and mirroring.
WhatÕs your intention?
intention closely linked. Intention
can also be mirrored between client and therapist.
Clients come into
therapy with not only not-conscious emotions, but also not-conscious
Is the client
distancing or withdrawing? Is the
client looking to the therapist to think for him or her or inappropriate
The client not
going to talk about this if itÕs not conscious; they are going
to show their intentions.
help to identify these intentions.
WhatÕs going on
when the therapistÕs mind begins to wander? What about when the therapist
starts to talk a lot in the session? What about when
the therapist starts to feel sleepy?
Mind and Body
are closely linked to motor neurons.
Our bodies play a
crucial role in emotional, cognitive and motivational processes.
bodies, itÕs difficult to experience emotion
ItÕs a two-way
street – changing the state of our body changes our brain (meditation)
– becoming aware of our bodies (mindfulness) changes our experience of
self and other.
Emotion and Motivation
derived from the French word, ÒemouvoirÓ, which is based on
the Latin word ÒemovereÓ, where ÒeÓ means ÒoutÓ and ÒmovereÓ means Òmove.Ó
the word ÒmotivationÓ is also derived
So emotion and motivation are rooted in a
term that means to move (toward or away).
And our bodies rarely act
Our bodies donÕt
experience emotion without movement.
Emotion & Neuroscience
And this is
exactly what emotions are from a social neuro-scientific point of view: an inner state of
another individual that comes out through her or his movements and can be perceived by another.
There are always
two aspects to our perception of the emotions of others (top down):
The perception of
bodily movements and behaviors that signal the emotion and,
deduction of the
perceiver deduces or hypothesizes the inner state of the other.
The Process of Mirroring
Mirroring is a
that activate emotional centers in the brain as if we are experiencing similar
emotional states and,
Motor neurons that
are activated as if we would perform the actions that signaled that emotion
(i.e., facial and bodily movements).
Why is this important to us?
As therapists we
are trying to get into the minds of our clients.
If asking our
clients about their inner states was all that was
necessary to do that, then our jobs would be much easier.
many of the people who seek psychotherapy services have had experiences that
resulted in difficulty identifying, constructively regulating and understanding their
emotions and expressing intentions, which often results in their showing their
emotions and intentions rather than talking about them (alexithymia).
– Showing rather than telling.
intentions and expression of emotions are fairly evident (even to the untrained
eye), some are not so obvious.
We are taught to
pay attention to non-verbal cues in order to understand our clientÕs mental
another way to understand those states.
process (experiencing which leads to understanding) rather than a top-down process
(recognizing which leads to understanding)
The Prefrontal Cortex
Cortex (OFC) also called the Ventral Medial Cortex located in the prefrontal
lobe behind the forehead and above the eyes
Cingulate (front part of Cingulate Gyrus) located at the
bottom of the Neo-Cortex on the top of the Limbic system
The above two
comprise the Medial Prefrontal Cortex
regulate functions that are critical to healthy interpersonal
Orbital Frontal Cortex
One synapse away
from limbic system, cortex and brain-stem.
Has more direct
access to the emotional centers of the brain than any other part of the
Plays a role in integrating
emotion, thought and behavior
Not fully wired
until 25 years of age (18-voting, 21-drinking and 25-renting a car)
long-term planning and impulse control
The Cingulate Gyrus (folds) just
below the neo-cortex and along the top of the limbic system.
The front of this
area is called the Anterior Cingulate
come online until 9-12 months of age
goes where – in that it regulates attention, inhibition control, involved
in attachment behaviors, nursing and play, regulates aggressive impulses, has facial recognition
cells, empathy, physical pain, social ridicule and rejection.
Orbital Prefrontal Cortex + Anterior Cingulate
Cortex which regulates:
– Autonomic Nervous System – the accelerator and brakes of our body; and the
hypothalamus and its release of hormones
communication between parent and child, as well as between adults
– balancing thought, feeling and action
The Nine Functions of MPC
author of numerous books on neuro-science, mindfulness, parenting describes the
9 functions of the MPC:
Strengthening the MPC
attachment experiences affect the development of all these capacities
emotional difficulties are usually needing strengthening in one or more of
psychotherapy involves formulating interventions to strengthen one or more of these
capacities, while attending the customary process of building and strengthening
the therapeutic alliance/relationship.
Von Economo Neurons
Constantin von Economo (1876-1931):
Organized the cortex by cytoarchitecture (structure of
Divided the cortex into 7 lobes and each
lobe with subdivisions (frontal-35; superior limbic-13; inferior limbic-14,
specific type of neuron in the anterior cingulate and fronto-insular cortex
(von Economo neurons).
Both areas are
particularly active when we experience emotion and self monitoring.
cingulate seems broadly involved in nearly every mental or physical effort.
insula may play a more specific role in generating social emotions such as
empathy, trust, guilt, embarrassment, love—even a
sense of humor.
have received attention because of their identification in macaque which allows greater
VENs thought to
be the neural mechanism for Òfast social intuitionsÓ in uncertain
situations – I like, I donÕt like.
Rare at birth. Start to increase during the first 8
months post birth. Significantly greater numbers in the right hemisphere than the left, which
suggest their function in attunement.
dementia, autism, schizophrenia & depression
deficits in empathy, social awareness & self-control
schizophrenia and suicidal-depression
that are involved in immune response and digestion, suggests their
role in monitoring of a Òbody-loopÓ that incorporates visceral states and
emotions in the awareness of self and others (mirroring).
Von Economo Neurons &
Awareness of ones
own mind and
awareness of the minds of others are two separate but
important processes necessary for successful interpersonal functioning. Both require a form of consciousness.
consciousness: Antonio Damasio – Proto, core and extended
non-conscious, related to the bodyÕs homeostatic mechanisms
of self, self-states and others, other-states
Extended: autonoetic – past, present and
Von Economo neurons seem to
be most related to core consciousness – knowing self and other
Core and Extended Consciousness in
a process of strengthening core (CC) and extended consciousness (EC)
(emotion, thoughts, behaviors)
Connecting past and present
and its effect on the present
Strengthening Economo Neurons
that Strengthen Self
thoughts and beliefs
emotions and feelings
Theory of mind -
that Encourage Social Awareness
Theory of mind -
Neuroscience of Self-Other Differentiation
Damage to right
hemisphere (temporo-parietal region)
interferes with self-recognition (face).
right fronto-parietal damage
often suffer from asomatognosia: the failure to
recognize part of oneÕs body.
prefrontal damage can result in loss of autobiographical memory.
prefrontal cortex involved in differentiating self-other mental states.
when differentiating self-other (VENÕs?)
critical to the process.
Separating Self and Other
disconnected, estranged from others, oblivious to otherÕs minds, indifference.
over-reactive, merging of minds, difficulty tolerating differences.
allow for a shared experience and may contribute to entanglement.
Mirror Neurons can be said to allow for a shared experience with
others (feeling otherÕs emotions or intentions). Von Economo neurons allow
for a sense of separation from others (knowing that self is separate from other
– that others have their own minds and intentions).
(theory of mind) can help to create separation (self-other differentiation) without losing the
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