The Brain and the Inner World

Peter had made available Chapter 9 of The Brain and the Inner World by Marc Solms, Karnac Books, 2002, which focuses on ‘neuroscience and the talking cure’. The chapter summarised a little of the current knowledge of the Self, and how the Mind works; the understanding of awareness and consciousness with reference to the internal and external world. Solms reviewed current understanding (from Jaak Panksepp in particular) of basic primary instinctive emotions and the manner in which self-object relationships are encoded in the brain both for the automatic responses necessary for survival. This activity is at first unconscious. Then memory of interaction with objects experienced as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are laid down in memory systems which in turn act unconsciously on further experience of the world of objects. This sounds like a more or less passive mechanism.
However, there is a difference between the inner and the outer perspectives of the mind which is experienced as having an active agency which is synonymous with the sense of self we all have perceived, of course, subjectively. This SELF (the capitals are used by Panksepp to denote emotional and primary instinct different from our conscious acknowledgment of an emotion) guides action on the basis of evaluation without however free will at first.
“Free will” is understood from a neuroscience perspective as the capacity of the prefontlal lobes to inhibit what is otherwise what Freud called “repetition compulsion” of triggered motor programmes. And this ‘choice’  and “agency”is regarded as being at the core of our humanity as homo sapiens. The developed potential for delay in “motor responses” is thus in the interests of “thinking”. This capacity develops early and is heavily dependent on child life experience of what parents do and what parents say.Critical to this process is the language which becomes “inner speech” whereby as Solms says, prohibitions for example become inhibitions which is one of the processes by which humans develop their pathology whereby ‘”knowing is dissociated from doing, a diminution of the ability to regulate behaviour verbally. 
The “talking cure” which Freud described as strengthening the “ego” meant extending the sphere of influence of the “ego” over the “id”. but he abandoned his early distinction between the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind and saw also the core capacity of the ego was for “inhibition”. Thus repression is an unconstrained primary process and the inhibitory constraints a secondary one. The aim of the talking therapy is to bring to bear on the repressed inhibitory constraints of this secondary process and bring them “under the flexible control of the ego/SELF/free will.
So, anything which is not under the control of the prefrontal lobes is ‘repressed. Talking therapy aims to  extend that sphere of influence. To do so it uses language which is the means by which, at a higher level abstract connections between perception and memory are ‘named,’ and allow then behaviour to be subordinated  to “programs of activity”.  But, teasingly, Solsm suggests that we ‘know’ that  such internalised and unconscious connections are ‘rekindled’ by transference in the therapeutic relationship being that which is repressed to consciousness.  But, he says, of this “we know virtually nothing! So Solms avoids adroitly false claims for the “talking cure”
Discussion properly focused on the experience of clients observed and felt by members of the group. We were able to contrast approaches along the spectrum from cognitive and analytical to person centred, directive to non-directive. The value of full body relaxation experience for noting the existence of emotions and their location in the body was appreciated. This would appear to be a process of allowing something of the unconscious connections and control to be acknowledged and, if named, then able to be within conscious reach allowing some aspect of the executive function of the prefrontal lobes to allow ‘space’ for alternate behaviour.
The value of transitional objects in childhood was recognised, but the relationship of this phenomena to an adult life encounter with a therapist required thought. The teddy bear may be torn apart but the desire to do that to the therapist is perhaps unlikely to be owned unless named by the therapist?
A number of the group ‘have to’ work short term with clients and the application of the processes of the ‘talking cure’ needed elaboration and exploration. Working intensely to establish a therapeutic alliance that acknowledged the power of relationship to effect awareness and potential change, might be one response. Attending carefully to the client’s understanding of the goal of being in therapy might be another. 
Perhaps learning from neuroscience about brain processes and what is unconscious and what is consciousness might help therapists to use deliberately the value of the human relationship for ameliorative change. The current stage of neuroscience awareness has yet to be able to define and understand “consciousness’ so therapists’ experience now is vital information for future understanding of what brings about change therapeutically. 

The Brain and the Inner World

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