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Infant Research & Neuroscience at Work in Psychotherapy

For decades, psychotherapy has been considered “the talking cure”: two people in conversation, with a shared goal of relieving the suffering of the patient. From the early days of Freud to the current popularity of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the spoken word has been the central focus in the therapeutic alliance. In recent years, however, the advent of functional MRIs and other brain-scanning technologies has led to new discoveries about the workings of the brain that may afford clinicians innovative and exciting new ways of working with clients, beyond simply “talking.”

Judith Rustin’s Infant Research & Neuroscience at Work in Psychotherapy: Expanding the Clinical Repertoire brings together many of these new discoveries. In her book, published by Norton, Rustin summarizes key research in the areas of both infant behavior and neuroscience, and provides easy-to-understand examples that help clarify how rather elusive concepts—such as implicit and unconscious ways of remembering and communicating—can be applied in day-to-day therapeutic interactions.

Rustin begins with a focus on infant research, stating that “the nonverbal modes of communication discerned in the interactive process between infant and mother…can be used by the therapist as tools or techniques in treating her patients.” After summarizing much of the major research on the infant-mother interaction, including studies on eye-to-eye gaze, face-to-face play, and self- and mutual regulation, she describes her treatment of a patient called “Jack,” detailing how she applies her knowledge of infant research to their therapy relationship. Her description brings the reader into the therapy room, and provides an excellent example of the research at work.

In each of the chapters that follow, Rustin continues to first explain the current research on the brain and infants, then follow up with a clinical example of how she or another clinician has applied that research to a specific therapy client. These real-life accounts, in addition to bolstering Rustin’s theory, make the book more than simply a dry review of the scientific literature.

The book goes on to discuss studies on memory, the mind-body connection, the fear system, and mirror neurons and shared circuitry. Since Rustin believes that focusing on the spoken narrative “can sometimes limit our vision to other possibilities for understanding and intervention,” she illustrates in each example how attending to bodily responses and emotions—both her clients’ and her own—can provide insights that might otherwise be missed.

The ideas in Rustin’s book are not intended to replace traditional psychotherapy; rather, she says, “they just provide additional pathways for understanding and intervening in a way that offers additional sources of fluidity and elasticity to the therapeutic relationship and clinical process.” Rustin does an excellent job of reviewing the literature and giving detailed examples of how to apply infant research and neuroscience in a clinical setting with adults. She makes it clear that each therapeutic dyad is unique, and that the examples she provides are just one of many ways that the research can be applied. By opening our concept of therapy and demonstrating new applications of research, Rustin has contributed an important addition to a growing body of work.

Infant Research & Neuroscience at Work in Psychotherapy: Expanding the Clinical Repertoire

W. W. Norton & Company, December, 2012

Hardcover, 224 pages


Infant Research & Neuroscience at Work in Psychotherapy

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Kim Lachance

APA Reference
Lachance, K. (2016). Infant Research & Neuroscience at Work in Psychotherapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 May 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 May 2016
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