Monday, April 14, 2008

If Unconscious is in the Right Brain, why is analysis in the Left Brain?

There is something extremely puzzling to me. My hope is that, through discourse, I can come to better understand this question about analysis in the left brain (verbal, symbolization via language, logic-of sequence, explicit, etc) when growing evidence seats the Unconscious in the right brain (nonverbal, emotional-affective, bodily-based, relational, implicit). This 'crisis of faith' (really, of emphasis, or privileging of what is mutative) was triggered by my attendance at the American Psychological Association, Division 39 (psychoanalytic) over the weekend in NYC. Though I attended over 30 hours of presentations and discussions, I was most 'blown away' by the 50 minute lecture of Allan N. Schore, Ph.D. [of UCLA, author of "Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self" and "Affect Regulation and the Reparation of the Self"] on April 12, 2008 entitled, "The Paradigm Shift: the Right Brain and the Relational Unconscious."

Schore is a neuropsychologist, so he talked about the brain. The most ancient part, the brainstem, oversees the automomic nervous system (think "automatic:" breathing and heart rate, fight-flight responses, etc), arousal, and pain. It interfaces with the limbic system (the seat of our emotions and libidinal and aggressive motivations), which, in turn, interfaces with the Right hemisphere. The right brain is bodily based, nonverbal, ultra-rapidly integrative of emotion, affect, facial expression, auditory prosodic, gestural, and other relational data, and is so rapid that this information processing is truly unconscious! It is the seat of implicit memory. In turn, the right brain interfaces with the left hemisphere, where explicit, verbal communication originates.

Early interactions between infant and caretaker regulate affect and self. The primary care-giver regulates the infant's bodily-based, affective arousal (the mind is not separate from the body). The infant brain actually develops according to relational, two-person, intersubjective experience! As most regulation is going on at the unconscious level, Schore recommends that analysis focus on recovery of affect-laden infantile experience, even dissociated affects.

As Schore states that 60% of communication is non-verbal (facial expression, posture, gestures, tone, prosody, pitch, inflection, etc), it makes one question how did psychoanalysis come to privilege left brain (explicit, verbal) communication? Because it is easier to quantify and understand consciously? [Some, including Lew Aron, who will visit us in Tampa October 17, 2008, and Jessica Benjamin theorize that the repudiation of feminity - designated as that which is relational and right brain, while language is designated masculine (think Lacan) - had something to do with the eschewing of right brain communication.]

I have to rethink how I will define psychoanalysis. Will my definition remain left brain lop-sided, privileging the revealing of the unconscious through reading between the (verbal) lines, or will I have to learn to value and make use of right brain communications? And am I doing that unconsciously already, unconscious to unconscious? Can this use of right brain unconscious even be taught or is it dependent on the infantile development of my own brain? Something besides insight from interpretation must be mutable, too, but how do we define it, learn it, understand it? Let me know what you think. I am grateful to Schore for giving me a basis to understand the clinical value of the elegant and painstaking research of Beebe and Lachmann on speech patterns and facial expression of the analyst. My children are grateful for any information that helps me pay more attention to tone.


Anonymous said...

Left brain Right brain and Healthy Lifestyles

It sounds like a great series of lectures. Especially the one by Allan N. Schore, Ph.D.

My understanding of the brain functioning also reflects parent child interaction before the age of the child’s critical development, although not ruling out the continued learning process after that time. Much of the wiring and pruning of neurons in the brain is done before three years old and the next stage is the through the development of the Frontal Cortex. Joseph LeDoux in the “States of Mind” points out that Freud's observations of Infantile Amnesia, in having no recollection to specific events before the age of three, may be due to the Hippocampus not developing until that age. Further studies have equated emotion and memory to the Amygdala and Hippocampus. Although the Amygdala and Hippocampus do not develop to the age of around three, the Frontal Cortex does not finish developing until the age of 25. That suggests the importance of continuous adolescent learning contrasted by the impulsive nature of youth. Much of unconscious memory has been related to what LeDoux calls the low road, that is input of information that is processed through the Amygdala, stored in the Hippocampus, but not processed through the Cortex.

The functioning of the left and right hemisphere are important to the process of learning as well as therapy. With the consideration of neuro-pruning and brain development during childhood as well as the hereditary aspects of traits and genetic aspects of predisposition, not to mention environmental factors, substance abuse, and other pathologies, suggests that exposure to healthy lifestyles as self expression, diet, exercise, continuous learning, and the arts may be critical to self esteem and personal development. The right hemisphere controls emotional, music and art development, as well as expressive language and ideas, while the left hemisphere and Broca’s area controls reasoning basic language functioning, speech, and mathematical functioning. However, it is the Corpus Callosum that joins the hemispheres and allows us to switch from rational to imaginative and expressive thinking, language, and actions. The left and right hemispheres also control the opposite sides of the body. In addition to the functioning of these areas, stress and cortisol play a significant part in how we learn to respond to situations as well as our ultimate health. The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis and the Vagus nerve are also critical in the interaction of the mind and body and our response system.

It is my belief that life is a balance between memories and expectations that manifest themselves in the present. Living is to have purpose, without which life has little meaning. Freud’s ideas of motivation along with Frankl’s idea of purpose, as a major factor in life development, compliment each other in the idea of developing healthy lifestyles. To me that is the beginning of what Mutative means. Neuroscience has shown that healthy diets, exercise, continuous learning, laughing, having friends, and establishing goals that reflect healthy lifestyles add to neurogenesis and plasticity in the brain, and even have an affect on Dementia and Alzheimer’s as well as other pathologies.

Christopher Diggins said...

I posted this same comment on another article on this same blog, but once I read this author's excitement for Dr Schore's work, I could not help myself. Please excuse the redundancy.I did not know that these changes to the limbic brain can "even have an affect on Dementia and Alzheimer’s as well as other pathologies." This is very exciting. I have a new blog please check it out-

Hello, thanks for posting the article. I have not had much exposure to ego psychology since my graduate school days (20 years ago) so it was refreshing to be reminded of what it entails. And I can see that I have been unconsciously influenced as I did not remember, prior to reading this, what was involved with this approach.

Over the past 5 years I have been praticing, researching,writing a book and teaching Affective Relational Therapy (my made up name). This is based on work of Diana Fosha, Daniel Siegel, and Allan Schore.

This therapy is similar to the approach described in the article in that creating an alliance, an emotionally safe environment, is crucial to its success. I do this by not being neutral and observing countertransference but by actually sharing my emotions and emotional responses with the client from the start. I know some will balk at this and it can be a shock to clients at first, and they come to appreciate it once the get over the unfamiliarity of it.For most clients they have never in their lives, not even once, experienced another sharing their genuine emotions with them where the other has been impacted by what they are sharing. This is a most beneficial and significant event- to have another moved emotionally in their mind and heart by what someone is experiencing and sharing. This sort of interaction is what needs to occur between caregiver and infant for the infant 's limbic brain to develop in a healthy way.

According to Dr Schore there is actual brain damage done to the limbic brain if there is abuse or neglect. And this limbic resonance between humans actually heals the damage done from past traumatic events. This brain plasticity where new neural pathways are generated is a significant discovery which is throwing psychotherapy on its ear. And it should.

With Dr Daniel Siegels work using PET scans and MRI's there is now clear scientific evidence to this effect.

Joanna Poppink said...

Dear Lycia,

It's a great pleasure to hear your enthusiasm for Schore's work and your wrestling with the issues his work raises for psychoanalysis.

I have the joy and privilege of participating on a regular basis in one of Allan Schore's study groups in Los Angeles.

What I've been learning has had a powerful effect on how I work with patients, how I listen, how I choose what to say or not say, how I evaluate what goes on in a session and how I appreciate body and imagery communications - for the better for both my patients and me.

So often we have heard, or even used ourselves the phrase, "steel oursevles". This is usually used when someone is basing their actions on logic. It's purpose is to block emotions and intuitions that are in conflict with those actions.

Today I work from the premise that the right brain leads the way and the left brain serves. Imagery, emotions, body language, reathing, skin tone and color - my patient's and mine, bring up the experience, memories and important issues.

Logic, strategic thinking, verbalizations and evaluations can be helpful servants, but they cannot lead the way. That would deny the actual lived experience of the person.

A challenge for me in doing this work is tweaking or being downright contrary to some of the teachings of my old respected and beloved psychoanalytic supervisors from the past.

However, in intimate moments, even they would speak of the power of love in the healing process.

Joanna Poppink, MFT