Issue #15 (June 2015)
Our perspective on mental illness is shifting from a medical model that conceptualises something amiss with the neurochemicals in our brain to a more sophisticated understanding of environmental circumstances shaping adaptive neural networks modulated by epigenetic predispositions. This month we feature psychiatric nurse-turned-neuroscientist and psychotherapist Haley Peckham as she articulates her understanding of what “mental illness” really is: a formally adaptive response of the brain that may not be so adaptive in current circumstances. Her emphasis is on the early adaptation of our neural networks to our environment through childhood attachment experiences, with the realisation that we are amazingly adaptable throughout life and are not left victims to any misfortunes of the past. This non-pathologising perspective is the perspective of neuropsychotherapy in general, and it highlights the fact that psychotherapy is a neurobiological intervention—something that I emphasise to my own clients. Speaking as a clinician, I believe that what Haley has to say can be incredibly liberating, especially in the face of the tired yet widespread belief that chemical intervention is the most efficacious. On account of the length of Haley’s article, we have forgone a second feature article to bring you the unabridged version of “The Adaptive Nature of Attachment Patterns and Mental Illness.”
Also in this issue Dr. Pieter Rossouw outlines resilience from a neurobiological perspective, while our Prefrontal Muse column canvasses intimacy and infidelity—a perennially important theme in counselling rooms the world over.
I hope you enjoy this issue.
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The Adaptive Nature of Attachment Patterns and Mental Illness
Psychiatric nurse and neuroscientist Haley Peckham invites us to consider the assumption that “our brain is the organ of adaptation whose primary function is to perceive and learn our unique environment so that we may anticipate and coordinate the responses that help us, and in turn our children, to survive and thrive within it.” Haley takes us on a journey to reconceptualise what has traditionally been labelled “mental illness” as normal adaptive behaviour in response to adverse circumstances, and most importantly, attachment experiences that have been less than optimal.
- From the Editor: Matthew Dahlitz
- Applied NTP: Resilience: A Neurobiological Perspective – Pieter Rossouw
- Prefrontal Muse: Behind the Affair: Intimacy & Infidelity – Karen Young
An Issue of the Heart
Hard copy book now available from Amazon.com:
The Neuropsychotherapist Special Issues are anthologies of articles that have been published in the monthly magazine The Neuropsychotherapist.
This special issue is all about the heart… A wonder of complexity is the human being—something that continues to be a source of fascination and frustration for those of us who have set ourselves to understand human behaviour. This special issue focuses on the heart, an organ with a profound influence over our mental lives.
We are all familiar with the heart in its classical biological role as pump circulating vital oxygenated blood through the body. But how many are versed in its neural and bioelectromagnetic influence upon our brains? Research has revealed the heart even radiates an influence on those around us via electromgnetic fields. In the past such claims might have been dismissed as mere New Age fancy, but with ever more sophisticated and sensitive instruments, formal studies in recent years have demonstrated that our bodies have amazing multidimensional fields of awareness and influence. These findings about the heart continue to add weight to the argument that in the counselling room it is the therapist’s unconditional positive regard, warmth, and personal coherence more than any technique that make for effective therapy. It makes one wonder what the focus of training should be for new therapists—will courses become more focused on students developing personal coherence, practising attitudes of genuine care and compassion, and understanding what they are radiating to clients from their hearts?
Neuropsychotherapy, and the multidisciplinary integration that it stands for, is part of an important paradigm shift in medicine. Likewise, the focus on matters heart–brain in this issue reflects an important shift of understanding in the broader field of health. The study of any one bodily system—even the central nervous system in the case of psychologists—leaves us in the dark on many levels for many phenomena. It is our hope that you will come to appreciate the wonderful, so often implicit influence the heart has on our emotions and relationships, and that we will become more conscious of being authentic and coherent—for our clients and also for ourselves.