It’s been almost 30 years since my second year of graduate school when, unable to get into the overregistered group-therapy practicum, I was forced to take a class in something called “family systems therapy.” We met in a room that had a one-way mirror (a first in my experience) and watched a therapist interview a family–mother, father, sullen teenage boy, and 7-year-old twin girls. With the help of the teacher, and with a growing sense of fascination and awe, I could see how every statement the therapist made–every statement anyone made–changed the entire physical and emotional configuration of the group. The family kept morphing into contending alliances with a kind of complex choreography that I’d never even imagined in my experience of largely one-head-holds-all therapy training. An entirely new world opened up for me and made everything else I’d learned seem somehow ridiculously incomplete.
I believe that today we’re at a similar turning point in the development of psychotherapy, and I’m not alone. A growing number of researchers and clinicians believe that neuroscience is introducing a new dimension into our thinking that will transform the way we look at human relationships. Just a few years ago, it was still possible for therapists to believe that brain science was just too reductive and deterministic to have much impact on therapy. But we now know that, with apologies to John Donne, “no brain is an island”–nobody builds his or her own brain. The neural networks that make us who we are grow, develop, and change in response to human relationships from birth to death.
This interpersonal-neurobiology perspective doesn’t cancel out the hard-earned psychotherapeutic knowledge of the last 50 years, but just adds new depths to our understanding of what’s happening in our consulting rooms. Far from narrowing our focus, this new way of thinking challenges us to acquire a broader, deeper vision of our patients–to become even more “systemic” in our outlook, just as our family therapy forebears did. You could say, it’s back to the future all over again!
Since we first started publishing this magazine in the late ’70s as a four-page, mimeographed newsletter called The Family Shtick, we’ve thought of ourselves as community organizers, bringing together like-minded colleagues around common goals and interests. Now, thanks to the internet and other newfangled communications technologies, it’s become possible for our readers to participate in a virtual learning community year-round.
In the centerfold of this issue (pp. 53-56), you’ll find details about a raft of new website features, learning opportunities, and resources that can enhance your practice. For example, you can now get the field’s best teachers to come to you–via our Networker U Telecourses and Audio Home Study Programs. Have you ever wanted to talk directly to the author of an article or book that you’ve read recently? Through “Meet the Author,” our free, monthly, telephone “kaffee klatch,” you can schmooze with prominent writers who’ve just produced a controversial new book or written an intriguing article. Or you can join the Networker Reader Forum, an interactive internet bulletin board, where you can give us feedback about articles we’ve run or share your questions, ideas, and opinions with other clinicians. Do you want to research back issues for articles that might be relevant to a particularly tough case or reread a particular article that you can’t remember the name of? Help is at hand. The Networker now has online archives on its website (www.psychotherapynetworker.org) that allows you to type in a keyword–depression, anxiety, eating disorder–and, for a nominal fee, finds and delivers the article you want, going back to 1993.
So, any time you’re feeling isolated and need a hit of conversation with a colleague, want some expert advise on a baffling case, or yearn to be reinspired by a sensational teacher, join us and dip into the learning community that unites all of us engaged with the fascinating questions that this magazine regularly explores. There are no exams to get into this school–just an inquiring mind, a computer keyboard, and a telephone.
Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.