The Role of the Right Brain in Group Psychotherapy

by Alan Schore PhD

Over the last three decades I have published 6 books and numerous articles and chapters on the central role of right brain unconscious mechanisms in emotional communication and affect regulation in early development and in psychotherapy.

In addition to offering developmental interpersonal neurobiological models of attachment and relational trauma, my work in psychotherapy continues to characterize the right-lateralized brain/mind/body mechanisms that operate beneath the words in therapeutic change processes.

Towards that end I continue to offer recent research and clinical descriptions of right brain functions in early dysregulating attachment processes, in unconscious nonverbal communications of emotional deficits within the therapeutic alliance, in patient-therapist transference-countertransference transactions, in mutual therapeutic re-enactments of early relational trauma, in rupture and repair transactions, and in affect regulatory empathic repair of the subjective self. These themes will be discussed in the Byron Bay lectures on the application of regulation theory to individual psychotherapy.

The construct of the unconscious is now shifting from an intangible, immaterial, metapsychological abstraction of the mind to a psychoneurobiological heuristic function of a tangible brain that has material form.

I will focus on reenactments of early attachment trauma in the group setting. Towards that end I will also discuss the importance of mutual regression in these reenactments, and describe the interpersonal neurobiological mechanisms by which these transferential unconscious dynamics can be shared, emotionally experienced, and interactively regulated by not only the empathic group leader but by psychobiologically attuned group members.

I have recently discussed working with the nonverbal defenses of dissociation and repression that block traumatic affects from reaching consciousness within individual psychotherapy. In this talk I will apply this model to working with these defenses in the group psychotherapy context. Current neuroscience, especially recent studies of the right brain, the psychobiological substrate of the human unconscious, now allow us to understand more than content but process, and thereby underlying mechanisms of therapeutic changes.

In another upcoming volume The Development of the Unconscious Mind I present a large body of evidence indicating that the development of the right lateralized unconscious mind begins in the prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal stages of human infancy and continues across all later stages of the life span. The construct of the unconscious is now shifting from an intangible, immaterial, metapsychological abstraction of the mind to a psychoneurobiological heuristic function of a tangible brain that has material form. Using the essential construct of group psychotherapy, group cohesion, I will suggest that the interpersonal neurobiological mechanism of a relational unconscious that communicates with another relational unconscious also operates in the group context.

This model suggests that group psychotherapy can change not only the patient’s left hemispheric conscious mind, but her right hemispheric unconscious mind.