Neuroscience, Therapeutic Action, and Clinical Pragmatism

The 2014 Rhoda G. Sarnat Lecture

Neuroscience, Therapeutic Action, and Clinical Pragmatism: Experiments in Adapting to Need 

Presented by William Borden, Senior Lecturer

The emerging science of mind, shaped by developments in cognitive psychology and neuroscience over the last decade, continues to enlarge our understanding of resilience and vulnerability across the life course, and findings promise to deepen our appreciation of essential concerns in clinical social work. We have moved beyond the fundamental debate of nature versus nurture in our conceptions of development, and we continue to realize the ways in which the brain and mind are shaped by a complex interplay of genetic loadings and experiential opportunities in the social surround. The brain is far more plastic that we once thought, and we increasingly appreciate the crucial role of relational life and experiential learning in change and growth.   

In this talk, Borden reviewed recent developments in the science of mind, showing how emerging models of development validate differing conceptions of therapeutic action across the foundational schools of thought in contemporary psychotherapy and strengthen our understanding of facilitating processes in integrative practice. Drawing on the case of an individual diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, we consider core elements believed to foster neural plasticity and integration over the course of psychotherapy. Borden will show how emerging perspectives in neuroscience reaffirm the basic values and principles of clinical pragmatism, bridging scientific and humanistic domains of concern, emphasizing the importance of comparative approaches to understanding; the practical outcomes of ideas in a given situation; and the crucial role of collaboration and experiential learning over the course of intervention.

Although some scholars had predicted that biomedical models of explanation and treatment would supersede the practice of psychotherapy, recent lines of study only reaffirm the crucial role of psychosocial intervention in our efforts to bring about change and growth.