Interpersonal Neurobiology

My approach to therapy is strongly influenced by interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB), which seeks to explore and define the human mind and to provide a platform for how to achieve optimal mental health.   A central premise behind IPNB is that a working definition of the mind provides direction for how to achieve mental well-being.  IPNB describes the differences between the mind and the brain, elucidating that the mind is more than simply brain activity.  This is empowering, as we can learn to harness our minds to change the structure (connectivity) and therefore the function of our brains.  Major principles that inform my work are that the mind can be used to change the brain itself and that our relationships throughout life change the brain.  These three entities, the mind, the brain and our relationships are differentiated processes that intersect to create our lived experiences.

The field of mental health has placed significant emphasis on diagnosing and identifying problems, but lacks clarity and direction around what we, as all human beings, are striving towards in regards to how to achieve well-being.  In the early 1990’s, Dan Siegel, who pioneered this interdisciplinary approach, gathered together experts from the various branches of life science (anthropology, psychology, linguistics, physics, mathematics, etc.) and explored the common findings about the human experience from different perspectives.  This “meeting of the minds” honored the fact that all of the sciences have something to offer, but in isolation of one another, just inform one aspect of human experience and development.  This consilient approach led to the first universally accepted definition of the mind and what the mind needs for maximum mental health, thus creating a paradigm for how to cultivate well-being in our lives.

Prior to the evolution of IPNB, descriptions of the mind existed, but an accepted definition had not been put forth, thus optimal mental health was essentially equated with the absence of a mental disorder.  The knowledge and synthesis of information from over a dozen sciences reveals, in brief, that the mind is a process that regulates the flow of information and energy.  The long version is that the mind meets the criteria for a complex, non-linear system and can be defined as an “embodied and relational, emergent self-organizing process that regulates the flow of energy and information both within us and between us.”   

Armed with this definition, we have a broader, more comprehensive direction in therapy, that reaches beyond the reduction of symptoms, as we can we can now ask “what does a healthy mind look like?” In brief, a healthy mind requires self-organization, so that it can regulate the flow of information and energy.  IPNB states that a healthy mind (ie well being) achieves states of self-organization through a concept called integration.