Dr Terry Marks-Tarlow

Big Question

“What is the next big breakthrough you are waiting for in mental health?”

Ibelieve the next important revolution in mental health involves the full embrace of nonlinear science. This holistic paradigm is large and flexible, with methods and models that span the full complexity of how one mind/body/brain system can interact and emerge out of other mind/body/brain systems.

I was originally led into this field of study indirectly, through my deep friendship with the late and great, Nobel-winning physicist, Richard Feynman. Feynman was inspirational, in taking no body of knowledge for granted and encouraging everybody to be curious and ask big questions. I labored for decades to read original sources on nonlinear subfields of chaos theory, complexity theory, and fractal geometry. My struggles to understand these strange new topics felt worthwhile, because I could envision how nonlinear science would bridge multidisciplinary realms. It could preserve the mystery to blend the art of psychotherapy with its scientific and spiritual dimensions.

In 2008 I published Psyche’s Veil: Psychotherapy, Fractals and Complexity (Routledge; Foreword, Daniel Siegel). The book took 12 years to write and is case-based, with science boxes and original drawings. [ go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvPH94TMhY0 for a video of Psyche’s Veil as interpreted through children’s dance]. I proudly hoped to help usher in a major paradigm shift in the mental health field.

 Important points in a nutshell include:

1.      Chaos theory tells us that no matter how well we understand a complex system in present time (like a person’s psyche, predicament, or developmental history), we can neither predict its future accurately nor control it;

2.      Complexity theory turns notions of health and pathology upside down; healthy states of mind, brain, and body are demonstrate some chaos and variability, while unhealthy states are stable and regular;

3.      Fractal geometry models holistic, universal patterns in nature, where the pattern of the whole is repeated in the pattern of the parts; whether as patterns in space or in time, fractals model fuzzy, paradoxical boundaries between mind and brain, mind and body, self and other, and inner/subjective versus outer/objective processes broadly.

Despite my excitement, the book received little attention. I was invited to give few lectures (except at Tavistock, which was fantastic!). As I recall, the book wan’t even reviewed. While I take responsibility for being lousy at self-promotion, I have also come to realize that math and science scare away my fellow practitioners.

I learned my lesson and realized I would have to slip nonlinear topics in “through the back door” in any future work. I believe my writing is now more accessible and user-friendly. My last book, Clinical Intuition in Psychotherapy: The Neurobiology of Embodied Response (Norton, 2012; Foreword, Allan  Schore), discovered a topic that applies in an experience-near, heart-felt way to every practitioner within the mental health field, regardless of degree or orientation. My hope was to give readers just a taste of nonlinear topics in this book, so that they might return to Psyche’s Veil for more.

 Here is why clinical intuition is nonlinear:

  • Its workings can’t be predicted;
  • Its subcortical roots can’t be reductively analyzed or broken down into parts or steps;
  • It is a self-organized, nonconscious faculty whose products are spontaneous and emergent;
  • As a clinical mode, it is indispensable to change and most associated with novelty, growth, and creativity during psychotherapy.

I believe it’s only a matter of time before people realize the advantages of nonlinear science. Nonlinear lenses help us to view the full complexity of the psyche as embedded in physiological processes on the one hand, and cultural processes on the other hand, with intricate feedback loops in both directions.

Thanks to the Neuropsychotherapist for the platform to rant and rave on this topic. Perhaps this opportunity to speak out can help to usher in that paradigm shift after all!

Dr. Marks-Tarlow is Teaching Faculty at Reiss Davis Psychoanalytic Child Study Center in Los Angeles, California; Research Associate at Institute for Fractal Research in Kassel, Germany; and on the Advisory Board of the Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment, also in Los Angeles. Her academic interests include how creativity and intuition interface with nonlinear dynamics and neurobiology. She has a private practice, is an artist, does yoga, dances, and has written the libretto for an opera, “Cracked Orlando”, that premiered in 2010 in New York City with a ballet. She has authored and illustrated several books, including Psyche’s Veil: Psychotherapy, Fractals and Complexity (2008; Routledge) and most recently Clinical Intuition in Psychotherapy: The Neurobiology of Embodied Response (2012; Norton).