Last updated on 30th January 2011
I first came across Professor Antonio Damasio's work in 2001 at the "7th European Conference on Traumatic Stress" in Edinburgh. One of the main plenary speakers talked about Damasio's ideas as expressed in his earlier books "Descartes' error: emotion, reason and the human brain" and "The feeling of what happens: body, emotion and the making of consciousness" and wondered when psychotherapists would grapple with this new research and incorporate it into their therapeutic approaches. I read Damasio's books and was fascinated, but I've never heard any psychotherapy researcher mention him since! It's surprising when Damasio has such foundational things to say about emotion, memory, consciousness and our sense of self. Last month (November) he had a new book published - "Self comes to mind: constructing the conscious brain". I have been chewing my way through it. How are these neuroscience insights relevant for psychotherapists and the general public?
The helpful Wikipedia article on Damasio states: "Damásio's most influential contribution to date is the demonstration that emotions play a critical role in high level cognition, an idea that ran counter to dominant 20th c. views in psychology, neuroscience and philosophy. He showed that emotions and their biological underpinnings are involved in decision-making (both positively and negatively, and often non-consciously); provide the scaffolding for the construction of social cognition; and are required for the self processes which undergird consciousness ... (an index of its relevance can be gleaned from the fact that Damásio has been named by the Institute of Scientific Information as one of the most highly cited researchers in the past decade) ... He recovered James' perspective on feelings as a read-out of body states ... His latest book is Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. In it Damásio suggests that the self is the key to conscious minds and that feelings, from the kind he designates as primordial to the well-known feelings of emotion, are the basic elements in the construction of the protoself and core self."
I'd like to set myself the challenge of saying a bit more about three areas covered in this book and how they might affect my understanding and also affect my work as a psychotherapist. The areas are "Emotions and the body", "Memory and the autobiographical self" and "Mindfulness, protoself, core and autobiographical self". There's something to get my teeth into now and in the New Year. As a start, see next week's post "Self comes to mind: emotions & the body 1" .