Written by Louis Cozolino,

The How and Why of Human Relationships

Review by Gunnel Minett

In this thoroughly positive book, Louis Cozolino takes us through the often complicated path of the first twenty years of our lives, i.e. the time that will determine whether the rest of our lives will become harmonious and positive or ridden by neurosis.
Louis Cozolino is Professor of Psychology and a clinical psychologist with a private practice. In this book he draws both from recent brain science and his work as a psychotherapist. This presents a very insightful exploration of the basic theories of interpersonal neurobiology. As Cozolino explains, the brain is a social organ built, through experience. There is no such thing as a human brain in isolation (although according to Cozolino, many brain scientists still prefer to conduct experiments as if this were the case). The way our brain develops depends very much on the environment in which we grow up. If the relationships we form, particularly early in life, are not providing the input we need, the development of the brain can become disordered.
This in itself is nothing new. Most psychology books will present similar arguments. What makes the difference in this book is that it is filled with evidence from brain research at the same time as Cozolino gives numerous examples from his own practice to provide the practical side of each finding. For instance it deals with neural plasticity, mirror neurons and the biology of attachment. This both explains how things go wrong but also illustrates how the brain is able to develop in new positive ways and heal the effects of early trauma.
The fact that the book focuses on presenting evidence from neuroscience does not prevent it from being very compelling reading. On the contrary, the factual approach provides excellent insights of how brilliantly the brain works to utilise every opportunity to heal itself. This is done without any requirements for the reader to ‘think positively’ in order to believe that this is the way we function, a problem that many other ‘self-help’ books have in common.
By understanding how the brain works, we also learn to understand that much of socially undesirable behaviour actually often has positive roots. So although we may behave in ways that may be both morally and socially undesirable, it may be necessary to judge this on more levels that one.
This makes a very welcome contrast to the increasing amount of black and white rejection of certain types of behaviour, presented both by politicians, religious leaders and the general public, in what is perceived to be a world with growing social problems. To talk about good and evil may make good rhetoric, but if we are to move forward as human beings we will need far more insights into what makes us the way we are. This book makes a very valuable contribution to this much needed knowledge.

New York, 2006, W.W. Norton, http://www.wwnorton.com ISBN 13-978-393-70454-9 447