ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • Psychology & Psychiatry

The neuroscience of psychotherapy - talking to the ghost in the machine.

Updated on June 27, 2016

Supine on a therapist's couch it is all too easy to wonder about the machine whirring away inside the head of the person sat opposite. Is there, as Ryle noted sometime ago, a ghost inside the machine that runs in parallel with every fired neuron? Or is consciousness an attribute of quantum events in the brain? And what happens when the electrons start to misbehave and a neurotransmitter malfunctions? The therapist machine looks at the analysand machine and computes a system error, something amiss, something awry, a behaviour not quite understandable, an action not sufficiently regular, a semantic tic not noticeably normal. And then, on observing a dissonance, the therapist machine attempts some words of wisdom with which to heal the machine opposite. A piece of verbal duct tape to place over the afflicted area. An utterance to usher in a change.

Language is the sole instrument of psychoanalytic surgery, it is the distinction between matter and spirit, the means by which we develop theories and articulate our observations, and, rather awkwardly, it is the source of what neuroscientists recognise to be the "hard problem" of their discipline. The hard problem is largely the problem I outlined above, it is the problem of objective brain events and the subjective qualia of experience. Dual aspect monism, also known as perspectivism, is neuroscience's answer to the problem, and is simply a way of saying that there are many ways to view the same phenomenon.

Dual aspect monism recognises brain activity to be the primary place in which mental events and bodily acts originate. The brain is a high functioning cellular machine in this sense; it processes neurochemicals, transports ions, blocks and allows ozmotic exchange. We can observe the machine doing all these things and more, and we can draw conclusions about them. On the other hand, however, the very same processes can be observed by looking at the phenomenon that they cause, the behaviours described in the DSM-IV or those of everyday life. This is the way of neuro-psychoanalysis.

4 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of In the mind fields.

Bridging the gap between the two disciplines neuropsychoanalysis takes the insights from one discipline to explain the phenomenon in another. What very often results is a conversation that re-imagines the explanations of old. So, for instance, Freud's theory of libido would be re-framed as a dopaminergic system, and his theory of trauma and repression would be explained as the result of hormones shutting off the retranscribing action of the hippocampus. The therapeutic value of the analyst's couch is not lost in this process of elaboration, as the subjective experience remains at the forefront of the encounter, however sufficient gains are made by being able to explain thought and behaviour as a bodily process.

Other reinterpretations of therapeutic theory include:

  • Emotional and unconscious thinking is based in the limbic system of the brain, which has a greater processing capability than the area responsible for conscious thought.
  • The reality principle and the super ego are aspects of the frontal lobe executive control systems.
  • dreams and wish fulfilling thoughts are the result of a reduction in frontal lobe activity and an increase in mesocortical and mesolimbic activity.
  • Infantile amnesia is a consequence of the fact that language development occurs in the later developing left hemisphere.
  • The Oedipal conflict is the result of an attempt to integrate testosterone, dopamine and oxytocin systems in the brain.

The very fact that Freud was firstly a neurologist before becoming a psychoanalyst perhaps goes some way to explaining why the two disciplines continue to refer to each other. Indeed the whole premise of psychoanalysis was recognised to have a limited lifetime by its founder; Freud notably suggested early on in the development of his theory in his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, that "The theoretical structure of psychoanalysis is in truth a superstructure, which will one day be set upon its organic foundation." Neuro-psychoanalysis is possibly exactly what he had in mind. What he possibly hadn't considered was the emergence of a quantum neurology, which is as they say, another story entirely.

Will the future development of neuroscience be the death knell for psychoanalytic theories of the mind?

See results


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • SoliloquistLocket profile image

      SoliloquistLocket 6 years ago

      I really, really enjoyed reading this. Thank you very much for posting this.

    • profile image

      D-man 6 years ago

      I think that you should get "The Greater Reality" by Don Brown. This book provides the "big picture" that we all look for. Good Luck


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: ""

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)