The book group discussed The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy by Louis Cozolino (W.W. Norton & Co. 2002). We liked it. Cozolino’s book is easy to understand and moves along nicely. It is packed with information about the brain. Its case examples were great, though too few.

Cozolino writes about brain structures–the triune brain (lizard, mammalian, human), the left-right split, the effect of good attachment on brain growth, and the effect of trauma or poor attachment on brain pathology. He refers extensively from 2 out of 3 of my favorite "brain geeks": Seigel and Schore. He calls on theorists from the analytic traditions (Winnicott, Alice Miller, Freud) to discuss developmental and pathological processes. He talks about "neural plasticity", the ability of the brain to grow and adapt long after early "sensitive periods" or developmental windows. (That’s why psychotherapy or new life experiences can change the brain.)  He quotes good research to discuss good therapy, which he says (and I agree) is neural growth and integration which is enhanced by:

"1. The establishment of a safe and trusting relationship. 2. Gaining new information and experiences across the domains of cognition, emotion, sensation, and behavior. 3. The simultaneous or alternating activation of neural networks that are inadequately integrated or dissociated. 4. Moderate levels of stress or emotional arousal alternating with periods of calm and safety. 5. The integration of conceptual knowledge with emotional and bodily experience through narratives that are co-constructed with the therapist. 6. Developing a method of processing and organizing new experiences so as to continue ongoing growth and integration outside of therapy." (p.27)

We liked it, and everyone thought there was a lot missing. The title: The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Building and Rebuilding the Human Brain, has very little discussion of psychotherapy. I was hoping that it would reiterate how Exposure therapy dampens amygdalur function, while EMDR integrates it. I wanted to get the scoop on Stephen Porges’s Polyvagal theory and how looking into someone’s eyes is a different for them when they’re mobilized, immobilized, or in a myelinated ventral-vagal relational state, and how to move them from one to another. I wanted to get the lowdown on which therapy modality might best fit which disorder. (Yeah, Yeah, Cozolino does say that it’s the relationship, more than the modality, which I know and say. And I still want to know what to do.)

EMDR has a nice one paragraph mention near the end of the book. Our group of 4 contained 3 EMDR/Brainspotters and 1 cognitive behaviorist/ Brainspotter. We could see EMDR fixing many of the manifestations of brain dysfunction, throughout the book. Cozolino had a great description of what’s happening in the brains of people with Borderline Personality Disorder (p. 282-3) without talking about Dialectical Behavior Therapy. We all wanted him to know more about more therapies than he did when he wrote the book. And he didn’t.

Read this book to get an easy-to-read rundown on brain function that pertains to therapy. Then read more. Look up Stephen Porges and Polyvagal theory, there are lots of articles online. Read Dan Siegel. Go to Dan Siegel & Marion Solomon’s attachment conference at UCLA/Lifespan Learning Center every March. (I think of it as the brain geeks-with-hearts meet hearts-with-big-brains conference.) And remember, that everytime you interact with clients, you’re truly messing with their brains.