Written by Richard Hill and Matthew Dahlitz


Review by Gunnel Minett

This book starts with a quote from Einstein: “science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind”. Paraphrasing this to ‘science without psychotherapy is lame and psychotherapy without science is blind” neatly sums up what this book is about. It’s a comprehensive overview of psychotherapy based the latest scientific understanding of both the body and the psyche and the intricate ways one influences the other. 

Today’s understanding of the psyche has made it clear that we can’t treat people suffering from psychological ill health as if they have a mind but no body! However, as Sigmund Freud unhappily discovered, integrating psychotherapy into mainstream medical treatment has always been problematic: Freud had to abandon his work as a neuroscientist in order to pursue his interest in healing the psyche via ‘talking therapy’, and ever since, there has been a clear split between research into the body and that into the mind. This split has had negative consequences for both  neuroscience and psychotherapy: it has resulted in an absence of integration regarding remedies for psychological healing. In other words, treatment either by talking therapy or by medication rather than an integrated approach to treatment.

But, as the authors point out, there is so much more to consider, in terms of in psychotherapy, than a simple cause-and-effect search into a person’s background. Not every problem is that black and white. Advances in neuroscience and genetics, in particular, have generated a whole new understanding of the human psyche which includes both body and mind. This research has spawned a whole tranche of new sub-disciplines; biopsychosociology, neuropsychology and biopsychology to mention just a few. To quote the authors, in this regard: “The psychotherapist is not just altering thoughts or emotional states but is literally stimulating protein construction within the neurons of the brain and, potentially, throughout the body. The effects can even include biological changes to the DNA itself…Psychotherapy is not an abstract, ethereal activity; it affects the entire complex ‘psycho-neuro-bio-immunological’ system.” (p158).

As per the title of this book, it’s a practitioner’s guide to the science of psychotherapy. It can also be described as a summary of years’ of work by the authors in accumulating and sharing cutting edge knowledge, in all of fields which related to the human body and mind. For years they have been publishing a monthly journal and website in which they present their findings*. Their work makes it clear that body can’t be separated from mind. They’ve demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that the old conception of a split between body and mind is based on ignorance and should be abandoned. 

The book also emphasise that although it is not compulsory everywhere in the world to have a medical degree to work as a psychotherapist, it is a clear advantage: all psychotherapists should  have at least some understanding of how the body and brain works as one unit. Some physical illness may result in symptoms that can be mistaken for psychological illness and vice versa. Without at least some insight into this interplay, a client/patient can be misdiagnosed and consequently treatment may be unsuccessful. 

To summarise, this book is a goldmine of information both for psychotherapists but also for medical professionals. It gives a thorough overview of the brain and the body in the early chapters, which leads on to a chapter on ‘the molecules of mental health’: this discusses genes and their expressions as basis for brain dysfunction. The authors’ strategy is to give the reader a thorough explanation of the basics of body-related fields, and then to move on to discuss psychological disorders and how to deal with them. Hopefully, this book will be compulsory reading for all aspiring psychotherapists.

* see https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com 

Published by W.W. Norton & Company Inc, New York 2022, 443 PP, Illustrated, Paperback, ISBN 978-1-324-01618-2 wwnorton.com