Neurodynamic approach

I have developed the neurodynamic approach with a neuropsychiatrist colleague, Dr José Ignacio Xavier (based in Rio de Janeiro). The term ‘neurodynamic psychotherapy’ was first proposed by the Russian neuropsychologist Alexander Luria in 1925 as a way of integrating psychoanalysis with neuroscience, but it could not be realised in the then USSR, although the Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich worked with a similar emphasis.

José Ignacio Xavier and I, apart from our clinical training, both have extensive training in the body-oriented psychoanalytic therapy developed by Reich – in effect a ‘Pulsation Therapy’ focused on the breathing, emotional expression, and healthy sexual functioning. We have developed this further along the lines suggested by Luria, in the light of our specialisations in neuropsychology and neuropsychiatry.

I introduced ‘The Neurodynamic Approach to Psychotherapy’ at the German Psychosomatic Medicine Conference in 2005. It is further described in my book PULSATION – From Wilhelm Reich to Neurodynamic Psychotherapy (2014).

The ‘neuro’ part of the word ‘Neurodynamics’ refers to the nervous system – not only the brain but the entire ‘neural network’ that governs both voluntary and involuntary attention and movement.

‘Dynamic’ refers traditionally to action and reaction, but neuroscience (consistently with modern physics) increasingly sees dynamics as relational interaction – between ourselves and others, as well as within ourselves between conflicting emotions and thoughts.

The key functions in the neurodynamic approach are attention, contact, and pulsation – all of which can become impaired when we are under stress in emotional and relational dilemmas, or when our spirits are low.

Attention underlies all neuropsychological functioning. (When it is impaired, so is memory, awareness of sensation, and sustained emotion or thought.) The neurodynamic approach encourages the client to pay attention to every moment, as in ‘mindfulness’, but also intensifies it through work with the breathing and bodily movement.

Contact with others, as in sustained eye contact, perception and responsiveness, is attention turned outwards to the other, and again it can be impaired by emotional ‘blocks’. NP focuses on contact in terms of relational dynamics.

The pulsation of the breathing is what keeps us alive, but it is impaired by blocks to contact and to free movement, in the form of chronically immobilised muscles which prevent the lively expression of emotion, and in turn awareness of feelings and of ‘forbidden’ or self-censored thoughts.