The Rise and Fall of PaxMedica


January/February 2010


In the late 1890s, Sigmund Freud, then a highly respected neurologist, abandoned his attempt to create a "scientific psychology" grounded in neuroscience because knowledge about the physical brain was just too primitive. Instead, he had to settle for studying the processes of the mind, which didn't turn out too badly, considering he virtually founded the entire field of modern psychotherapy. Now, a century later, Freud's abandoned dream shows signs of resurrection. An unprecedented outpouring of discoveries in brain science are beginning to affect how therapists think about and practice psychotherapy—possibly bringing the most significant transformation in our field since the invention of psychoanalysis.

We believe we're seeing a dynamic new understanding of how psychotherapy works and how it actually affects the neurophysiology of our clients. We call this new vision of treatment "brain-based therapy," a way of approaching the therapeutic task that draws upon a combination of neuroscience, developmental psychology, psychotherapy research, and complexity theory. While all of this may sound complicated, it carries forward the single most important and powerful aspect of traditional psychotherapy: a healing conversation that transforms mental and emotional suffering. What we're discovering about neuroscience promises to help us understand the question that's beguiled therapists from the beginning: How can a simple conversation—or, as Freud called, it the "talking…

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