Relational Trauma and the Developing Right Brain

Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 4.38). 05/2009; 1159(1):189-203. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04474.x
Source: PubMed


Psychoanalysis, the science of unconscious processes, has recently undergone a significant transformation. Self psychology, derived from the work of Heinz Kohut, represents perhaps the most important revision of Freud's theory as it has shifted its basic core concepts from an intrapsychic to a relational unconscious and from a cognitive ego to an emotion-processing self. As a result of a common interest in the essential, rapid, bodily based, affective processes that lie beneath conscious awareness, a productive dialogue is now occurring between psychoanalysis and neuroscience. Here I apply this interdisciplinary perspective to a deeper understanding of the nonconscious brain/mind/body mechanisms that lie at the core of self psychology. I offer a neuropsychoanalytic conception of the development and structuralization of the self, focusing on the experience-dependent maturation of the emotion-processing right brain in infancy. I then articulate an interdisciplinary model of attachment trauma and pathological dissociation, an early forming defense against overwhelming affect that is a cardinal feature of self-psychopathologies. I end with some thoughts on the mechanism of the psychotherapeutic change process and suggest that self psychology is, in essence, a psychology of the unique functions of the right brain and that a rapprochement between psychoanalysis and neuroscience is now at hand.

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