Bonnie Badenoch on Interpersonal Neurobiology: Unifying Science and Heart
Interpersonal Neurobiology: Unifying Science and Heart
You’ve probably noticed articles on brain science beginning to appear regularly in mainstream media. The benefits of mindfulness are also becoming a more common topic. You may, however, have heard less about a remarkable emerging field: the role of neurobiology in healing attachment as it relates to trauma.
This perspective is a unifying one: left and right brain, science and emotional presence, patient and healer.
Nurturing the Heart with the Brain in Mind
Dr. Bonnie Badenoch is a leading specialist in Interpersonal Neurobiology. Perhaps you know her books, The Heart of Trauma: Healing the Embodied Brain in the Context of Relationship or Being a Brain-Wise Therapist: A Practical Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology. Bonnie points out that we are hard-wired for attuned, connected relationships; one of our principal struggles as human beings is to create relationships that truly nurture.
Our earliest relationships create “mental models,” perceptions about ourselves and relationships — held below the level of awareness — that permeate every thought and action pattern throughout life. Parents initially wire patterns of connection into infant brains, joining the limbic system to the cortex and the right hemisphere to the left. Abusive, neglectful or detached parenting can result in a separation between left and right brain integration, leaving a person with fragmented selves.
Fortunately for our treatment interventions, two decades of research now indicate that our brains are constantly rewiring. As a result, our clients need not be imprisoned by their early attachment experiences.
And this rewiring is important not just for our clients but also for ourselves, as professionals and as evolving human beings.
Our Own Embodiment as a Professional Tool
Learning how neurobiology works has the potential to change our own wiring as therapists, giving us new insight and wisdom for working with clients. Bonnie teaches that healing can be fostered in a therapeutic relationship by embodying the principles of Interpersonal Neurobiology.
Delving into the science of the brain — as opposed to working with a more amorphous sense of how empathy could heal — Bonnie herself began discovering her own increased feelings of connection. Better scientific understanding can allow us to use deep relational moments for healing and to help clients discover their own potential.
Bonnie offers (highly in-demand) trainings focused on helping therapists learn to combine neuroscience research with mindfulness practice and the use of exploratory tools, such as sand tray work and non-dominant hand drawings.
Nor is all mindfulness training identical. Bonnie has noted a difference between practice based on awareness of the breath and one that includes awareness of the brain. Trauma survivors may struggle with traditional mindfulness exercises: rather than calmness, they experience overwhelm linked to past experiences. But thinking concretely about brain processes has the potential to give clients an ability to maintain a “small but caring” distance.
Bonnie’s conviction that wisdom about the relational brain can transform human experience is bringing the power of nonjudgmental presence to promote healing. We as practitioners can help trauma survivors and those with significant attachment wounds discover their own presence to expand a personal potential to heal.
And through Interpersonal Neurobiology, we can not only become more skilled therapists but we can experience our own unified, embodied brains.