The Adaptive Nature of Attachment Patterns & Mental Illness

Haley Peckham

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As a psychiatric nurse I am immersed in a paradigm that pathologises, diagnoses and medicates what we recognise and name as mental illness; as a human being I hear stories of people’s lives, their beginnings, their hopes and despair, their loves and losses, and their perseverance in their struggles to negotiate their way in the world; and as a neuroscientist I have some appreciation of the breathtakingly awesome complexity and adaptive capacity of the brain. In this article, my premise is 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. From the genetic level of our DNA right up to the functional connectivity between brain regions, the brain adapts to its environment. Epigenetics mediates the effect of the environment on the genes (Peckham, 2013), and synaptic and white matter plasticity dynamically changes according to what we experience in our environment. This level of complexity means the capacity that each of us has to adapt in order to survive and thrive in our particular unique environment is truly staggering…

 


An Issue of the Heart

Issue of the Heart special cover2Hard 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.