Friday, October 17, 2008

Daniel Seigel on the Mind

Daniel Siegel is a star of the neuroscience world, and a friend to Buddhists in his efforts to bring mindfulness into the therapy office.

Siegel is the author of several books on parenting and child development including The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being published in published by WW Norton in 2007, The Developing Mind: Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience published by the Guilford Press in 1999 and Parenting From the Inside Out, which he co-wrote with Mary Hartzell in 2003 and was published by Tarcher.

Siegel is known for his work in Interpersonal Neurobiology which is an interdisciplinary view of life experience that draws on over a dozen branches of science to create a framework for understanding of our subjective and interpersonal lives. Source - The Developing Mind, (Siegel 1999). Siegel's most recent work integrates the theories of Interpersonal Neurobiology with the theories of Mindfulness Practice and proposes that mindfulness practices is a highly developed process of both inter and intra personal attunement. Source - The Mindful Brain (Siegel, 2007)

I've just begun reading The Developing Mind, a book that, in part, seeks to explain how attachment impacts neuro-development in children, and how interpersonal relationships also shape mental development and function.

Here is a nice series of passages from early in the book:
Because it reveals the connection between brain structure and function, current neuroscience provides us with new insights into how experience shapes mental processes. By altering both the activity and the structure of the connections between neurons, experience directly shapes the circuits responsible for such processes as memory, emotion, and self-awareness. We can use an understanding of the impact of experience on the mind to deepen our grasp of how the past continues to shape present experience and influence future actions. Insights into the mind, brain, and experience can provide a window into these connections across time, allowing us to see human development in a four-dimensional way (p. 2).

* * *
Interpersonal relationships may facilitate of inhibit this drive to integrate a coherent experience. Relationships early in life may shape the very structures that create representations of experience and allow a coherent view of the world: Interpersonal experiences directly influence how we mentally construct reality. This shaping process occurs throughout life, but is most crucial during the early years of childhood. Patterns of relationships and emotional communication directly affect the development of the brain. Studies in animals, for example, have demonstrated that even short periods of maternal deprivation have powerful neuroendocrine effects on the ability to cope with future stressful events. Studies of human subjects reveal that different patterns of child-parent attachment are associated with differing physiological responses, ways of seeing the world, and interpersonal relationship patterns. The communication of emotion may be the primary means by which these attachment experiences shape the developing mind. Research suggests that emotion serves as a central organizing process within the brain. In this way, an individual's abilities to organize emotions -- a product, in part, of earlier attachment relationships -- directly shapes the ability of the mind to integrate experience and to adapt to future stressors (p. 4).
So maybe Freud wasn't so far off in looking at the mother-child relationship in the psychological health of his patients.

The reality of the mind is that it is a social construct as much as it is a physiological and/or neurochemical construct. We need to learn to honor that truth.

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