Inter-subjectivity. Do you know what it means? Unfortunately, the majority of Americans would probably have to search a dictionary to gain a basic understanding. But according to psychologist Daniel Hughes, writing for a clinician audience, inter-subjectivity refers to “the quality of a relationship wherein the experience of one influences the experience of the other.” For example, Hughes writes, when a mother experiences love for her baby, the baby experiences himself as loveable. And at the same time, when the infant gazes back at his mother while showing delight, the mother “experiences herself as being delightful.” The same goes for two adults.
This joint awareness, or mindfulness — one that bonds mother and child or spouse and spouse — is powerful. Healing Moments in Psychotherapy, edited by Daniel Siegel and Marion Solomon and written by multiple authors in the fields of psychiatry, neuroscience, and psychology, focuses on the art and science of these potent relationship moments. Per its title, it also centers on healing, change, and the “transformational nature” of therapy.
The book is primarily written for therapists, clinicians, and other mental health professionals and scientists who are searching for a greater understanding of the therapeutic venture. It covers not only relationships, but also mindfulness, attachment, enactments and bodily processes, human interactions to effect change, and the neurobiological components of emotions.
Qhile this book is certainly not simple to read, it challenges readers to explore their level of knowledge about the psychotherapeutic process and how we effect change and growth. Essentially, it tries to help clinicians enhance their therapeutic process by understanding how science converges with the art of psychotherapy.
For instance, the introduction explains how Interpersonal Neurobiology, or IPNB, is central to the rest of the book. As the editors write, “One of the fundamental principles of IPNB is that the mind is a self-organizing, emergent process that is both embodied and relational and that regulates, as well as arises from, the flow of energy and information within us and between us.”
Healing, then, from the perspective of IPNB, “is the process of integration in which energy and information flow is cultivated, such that separate elements of a system are differentiated and then can become linked.” That may sound confusing. The gist is that integration allows for a balanced system and harmony, whereas without integration, we become vulnerable to chaos and rigidity — and that all sorts of mental health issues are the result of impaired integration.
The book also examines the influence of mindfulness on the part of the clinician or therapist. Mindfulness is an act of nonjudgmental awareness of the world around you and how the things around you impact you in some way. You are fully focused on the object before you — the person speaking with you, the sound in the environment, the smile of your baby, the beauty of a park, or the stripes on a butterfly.
Mindfulness has become an important component of contemporary therapy. In fact, multiple studies suggest that mindfulness training has proven itself useful for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other conditions.
With mindfulness, you are engaging in a moment-by-moment experience of being aware of things around you. According to Hughes, a clinician engaging in this experience while facilitating the therapeutic process will both provide and reap benefits.
This and other aspects of the book seem potentially useful. But overall, while the editors and contributors aim to provide scientific insight into mindfulness, attachment, emotions, and many other human processes often involved in therapy, they fail to provide enough for the reader. The book lacks both interesting hooks and enough background — many readers will require a foreknowledge of related works to truly grasp the content.
For an existential, phenomenological, or emotions-based therapist, Healing Moments may be unappealing in its black-and-white, unemotional nature. And for a more casual reader, the book may be too technical.
Healing Moments in Psychotherapy
W. W. Norton & Company, 2013
Hardcover, 304 pages