Changing Minds


What is Neuropsychotherapy?


Neuropsychotherapy is an integrative approach to therapy that takes into account the dynamic interplay between the mind, body, social interaction, and the environment on a person’s well-being with a focus on neuroscientific research. By understanding the mechanisms of our biology (and in particular our neurology), the processes of our psychology, and the influences of social interaction, it is believed a holistic therapeutic practice can be formulated. In recent years we have moved away from the term “neuropsychotherapy” as some have taken it to mean a specific therapeutic intervention or process – which it is not.


What is a Neuropsychotherapist?


The label “Neuropsychotherapist” (not to be confused by a neuropsychologist), has been used to describe a psychotherapist (either an eclectic or founded in any number of theoretical schools), who utilises neurobiological, cognitive, emotional, social, and environmental information to base or enhance their psychotherapeutic interventions. It was understood that the Neuropsychotherapist is someone grounded in a sound knowledge of the neurobiological underpinnings of mental states and behaviour. As stated above, this term can be misapplied to mean a specific specialist field, a specific intervention (and indeed in Europe there is a tradition of neuropsychologists practicing as a “neuropsychotherapist” with brain injured patients), but this is not in the spirit of Klaus Grawe’s original expression of the term. Rather, we believe, it indicates a broad and interdisciplinary awareness of what is at work in mental health issues.


Is This A New Theoretical School?


No this is not a new school of psychology or psychotherapy. Rather it indicates a greater depth of knowledge in the workings of the brain, and other aspects of our biology, to enhance the therapeutic practice of all psychotherapists regardless of their theoretical orientation.

Neuropsychotherapy aims to change the brain, but it does not directly target primarily the brain but focuses on the life experiences encountered by the person. The brain specializes in the processing of life experiences. Life experiences are meaningful with regard to the needs that are embedded within the brain structures of each human being. Neuropsychotherapy strives to shift the brain into a state that enables these basic needs to be fully satisfied. The best method for improving the health of the brain, then, is to ensure basic need satisfaction. (Grawe, 2007, p. 424)

Is this the same as Neuropsychoanalysis?

Neuropsychoanalysis is an attempt to correlate the findings of contemporary neuroscience with Freudian psychoanalysis. An exciting and beneficial undertaking that has core similarities with Neuropsychotherapy. The term neuropsychoanalysis was coined in 1999 with the introduction of the journal of the same name, pioneered by  Mark Solms, Oliver Turnbull, and others in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and neurology,  and now a well established community of scientists and clinicians (you can find out more about the society of Neuropsychoanalysis at the website NSPA).  While Neuropsychotherapy detracts nothing from the exemplary work of Neuropsychoanalysis, it’s outlook for interpretation and therapeutic application (of the multidisciplinary correlations that are discovered) is wide open to a multitude of modes and is not necessarily focused on Freudian Psychoanalysis.

The definition of Neuropsychotherapy may seem broad, but that is precisely the point. Armed, for example,  with microscopic insight into the activity of a particular neural network involved with a clients fear, as well as a macroscopic view of  their interpersonal relationships and environment, gives the neuropsychotherapist a thorough grasp of the clients situation. With the knowledge that there is a dynamic and powerful influence between the mind, brain, people, and environment, the eclectic clinician can choose from a large palate of therapeutic practices to achieve a desired outcome without being philosophically shackled to one approach. Similarly the therapist who holds dear to a particular school will find valuable insight into a clients conditions by understanding with more clarity what’s ‘under the hood’, so to speak, in the neurology and biology of the client, and possibly refine the therapeutic approach with this new understanding.

This does mean, however, that the therapist must have a multidisciplinary approach to study, analysis, and possibly intervention. It does not mean the therapist need explain to clients their condition in terms of  neurology and chemistry (although some clients may benefit from such explanations), but that a depth of understanding does exist by the professional who is dealing with the extreme complexities of a fellow human.  We would like to propose that the Neuropsychotherapist is one who works within a biopsychosocial paradigm toward holistic therapy, with an increasing depth of knowledge of all these levels of our being.

For an overview of Neuropsychotherapy, see Grawe, K. (2007). Neuropsychotherapy: How the Neurosciences Inform Effective Psychotherapy. New York, Psychology Press. The late Klaus Grawe defines Neuropsychotherapy as a neuroscientifically informed psychotherapy, and we stand on this foundational understanding while enlarging the scope of considerations to a broader biopsychosocial perspective.