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Dr. Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. He is also the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, an educational organization that focuses on the development of mindsight and teaches insight, empathy, and integration in individuals, families and communities.
Dr. Siegel has published extensively for professional and lay audiences. He has four New York Times bestsellers: Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, and two with Tina Payne Bryson, PhD: The Whole-Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline. His other books include: The Developing Mind, Mindsight, The Mindful Brain, and The Mindful Therapist. Dr. Siegel also serves as Founding Editor for the Norton Professional Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology, which includes more than 50 textbooks.
NPT: Can you tell us a little about the theories and philosophies that have most impacted your work?
DS: The approach of Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) draws on all the different disciplines of science to attempt to create a single framework for understanding the nature of the human mind and well-being. We look for what E. O. Wilson terms consilience to find the universal discoveries from independent pursuits of knowledge: the principles of mathematics, for example, offer insights into the nature of how systems work; biology examines how living systems function; sociology and anthropology study how human beings influence one another in groups and societies across time; physics offers new vistas into the nature of time and the universal properties of energy flow; psychology studies mental processes. In weaving the views of IPNB into a useful framework, we see one facet of the mind as an emergent self-organizing, embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information. As a self-organizing process, flexible and adaptive regulation creates harmony; impediments to the linkage of differentiation, the integration that creates this optimal self-organization, lead to chaos or rigidity. From this perspective, we can reexamine mental disorders as outcomes of impaired integration. Further, we can see that the mind is more than just the brain or its activity . . . that the mind emerges both within the whole body as well as within our relationships with people and things outside these bodies we are born into.
NPT: What are you working on currently?
DS: Currently I am working on a number of projects and initiatives at our Mindsight Institute in conjunction with other organizations to help explore the ways integration can become more a part of educational programs, clinical training, parent education, contemplative practice, and organizational functioning. The view of IPNB builds on the fundamental notion that who we are and how we function is a part of an interconnected whole. Yet so much of modern society pushes children and adolescents to live an isolated life and believe the self is separate. Schools support this in emphasizing competition rather than collaboration and connection. Science reinforces this “separate-self” view by stating (as it has for 2,500 years since the writings of Hippocrates) that the mind is only what the brain does. This single-skull view of the self, furthered by our modern culture’s emphasis on the rugged individual rather than the collective power of community, continues to reinforce this notion of the self being a solo job. Sadly, people often feel that they don’t belong to a larger whole, and meaning and connection are in short supply. But there is a lot we can all do—in how we raise kids, educate students, work in organizations, conduct public policy discussions, and even explore in science—to help open our minds to a more integrated and healthier way of living.
NPT: If there was one thing you would like to impart to a new psychotherapist what would it be?
DS: A mind–therapist focuses on both the whole body and our relationships. Who we are is not a “me” alone nor a “we” alone—it is more a “MWe”, an integrated self, which enables the differentiated me to link with an equally real we that comprise the core elements of who we are and how we can lead a full and healthy life.
NPT: In your experience, how has an understanding of neurobiology helped you in your practice/research?
DS: Neurobiology has been important in exploring a significant part of what the mind and mental health draw upon, but it is by no means the whole story of what the mind is. Knowing how experience shapes the brain’s function and structure is powerfully important for seeing how we create lasting change in psychotherapy. Amazingly, we now have research data from neurobiology that support the notion of the mind as a self-organizing process and integration as the core mechanism of well-being. In every study to date of individuals with impairments to mental health—those with dysfunction not caused by experience, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or autism, for example—there is a blockage in neural integration (the linkage of differentiated parts of the brain). Similarly, in those who have experienced abuse and neglect, experientially caused impediments in mental health are associated with impaired neural integration as well. And now the Human Connectome Project has revealed that when a wide array of measures of well-being have been explored, the one neural status that predicts well-being is how interconnected the connectome is, that is, how the differentiated areas of the brain are linked to each other. Neural integration is associated with well-being and impaired neural integration is associated with mental dysfunction. When we combine these findings with the study of attachment, we can also see how relational integration—the honoring of differences between people and then their compassionate linkages—actually seems to be what fosters the development of integration in the brain. What this suggests is that psychotherapy may be how we harness the power of the therapeutic relationship to use our presence to honor differences and promote linkages . . . using relational integration to cultivate neural integration. I’ve tried to explore this fundamental notion in a range of books, including Mind, Mindsight, The Mindful Therapist, and the Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology.
NPT: So what’s ahead for you in the next 12 months?
DS: I’ll be continuing to lecture on these topics, especially focusing on the ideas in Mind, as well as writing several new books for parents, psychotherapists, and the public. We’ll have our annual Interpersonal Neurobiology Conference at UCLA, which this year is focusing on the therapeutic implications of studies of consciousness. And we will be working here at the Mindsight Institute to continue to support the initiatives and programs that share a collective vision of how to translate science to help make our world more caring, kind, and compassionate. It’s a privilege to share these ideas with you, and to connect with people around our wondrous and fragile planet to bring more health and belonging into our lives.
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