The Mind–Body Connection – working with bodily experiences

Written by Judith Rustin for the Neuropsychologist Magazine.

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EMOTIONS ARE ONE of the most salient components of psychotherapy. The neuroscience view of emotion is related to, but distinct from, the way clinicians usually define and think about emotion. In usual clinical parlance, the terms emotions, feelings, and affects are all used interchangeably. In contrast, the neuroscience view of emotion refers specifically to subcortical, often body-based experiences and not the conscious awareness of a feeling. Often, though not necessarily, the body-based experience serves as a platform or scaffolding upon which the subsequent consciously experienced feeling or affect is built. Emotions form in the subcortical systems, are often experienced in the body before entering consciousness, and have a significant effect on judgment and decision making. This view of emotion affirms that a lot is happening within a person nonconsciously before there is any conscious awarness of it. Alerting patients to their bodily experience may help attune them a bit more quickly to what might lie below the surface. For some patients, alerting them to attend to their bodies’ signals gives them a way of accessing their emotions when language does not suffice. The neuroscience view of emotion can be integrated into mainstream psychody- namic clinical practice to offer another rich pathway for clinical exploration, intervention, and transformation. As most psychodynamic therapists would likely agree, the body as a source of understanding emotion is underutilized in mainstream clinical practice.

Keywords; psychotherapy, emotions, body-based experiences