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Lacy, T.J. Hughes, J.D. (2006). A Systems Approach to Behavioral Neurobiology: Integrating Psychodynamics and Neuroscience in a Psychiatric Curriculum. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 34(1):43-74.

(2006). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 34(1):43-74

A Systems Approach to Behavioral Neurobiology: Integrating Psychodynamics and Neuroscience in a Psychiatric Curriculum

Timothy J. Lacy, M.D. and John D. Hughes, M.D.

In the practice of medicine, an understanding of the biological functioning of organs and organ systems is the basis for theories of pathology and clinical practice. If psychoanalysis is to be accepted by the medical and psychiatric community, it must be based on a sophisticated understanding of the organ from which mental and emotional experiences emanate and use scientifically acceptable language. Each approach to psychotherapy has its own vocabulary for describing neuropsychological processes. Neurobiological vocabulary provides the various factions “neutral ground” upon which to carry on a multidisciplinary integrative dialogue. An understanding of behavioral neuroscience allows the therapist to look beyond the labels that spawn division and identify unifying biological principles that are described in a variety of ways in a multitude of theories. We contend that the neural network/representational approach to neurobiology views human mental experience as the result of multiple complex integrated systems, and is therefore holistic and antireductionistic in its perspective. Such a biologically informed psychotherapy facilitates integration of skill sets and flexibility in technique. With these principles in mind, the therapist can base his or her approach to the patient based on these principles rather than on devotion to one particular “school” or another. Because behavioral neuroscience supports many of the basic tenets of psychoanalytic theory, such an integrative psychotherapy would be psychodynamically informed. In this paper, we outline some of the ideas we present in our neuroscience course and how we relate biological concepts with some core principles of psychodynamics and psychotherapy.

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