Allan N. Schore, PhD

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Paradigm Shift: The Right Brain and the Relational Unconscious

Allan N. Schore, PhD


Current neuroscientists document that although the left hemisphere mediates most linguistic behaviors, the right hemisphere is important for the broader aspects of communication. Consonant with this principle, I contend that just as the left brain communicates its states to other left brains via conscious linguistic behaviors so the right nonverbally communicates its unconscious states to other right brains that are tuned to receive these communications. Studies show that 60% of human communication is nonverbal. In writing on therapeutic nonverbal implicit communication, Chused (2007) concludes, “I suspect our field has not yet fully appreciated the importance of… implicit communication.” Stern (2005) further suggests:

Without the nonverbal it would be hard to achieve the empathic, participatory, and resonating aspects of intersubjectivity. One would only be left with a kind of pared down, neutral ‘understanding’ of the other’s subjective experience. One reason that this distinction is drawn is that in many cases the analyst is consciously aware of the content or speech while processing the nonverbal aspects out of awareness. With an intersubjectivist perspective, a more conscious processing by the analyst of the nonverbal is necessary.

These ideas are echoed by Hutterer and Liss (2006), who state that nonverbal variables such as tone, tempo, rhythm, timbre, prosody and amplitude of speech, as well as body language signals may need to be re-examined as essential aspects of therapeutic technique. Even verbal interventions should be couched in emotionally appropriate and empathic climates. Indeed, Modell (1993) points out that the clinician’s empathic understanding of the patient is dependent upon the affective communications that accompany the patient’s words.” Andrade (2005) notes that the affective content of the analyst’s voice—and not the semantic content—that has an impact on the patient’s store of implicit memories. According to Geller (2003), “The creation of meaning through the symbolization of experience can occur in any medium or channel of communication. Words are only part of the communicative exchanges that take place during therapy sessions. So much of what is communicated in therapy is visual or nonverbal.”


In the clinical psychology literature Greenberg (2007) outlines the therapeutic relevance of the clear distinction of left and right brain affect regulation: “An issue of major clinical significance then is generating theory and research to help understand to what extent automatic emotion processes can be changed through deliberate processes and to what extent only through more implicit processes based on new emotional and/or relational experiences.” Stated in another way the question becomes how much emotional change requires implicit experiential learning versus explicit conceptual learning. In agreement with current trends in modern relational psychoanalysis he concludes, “The field has yet to play adequate attention to implicit and relational processes of regulation.”

Converging with this, current experimental psychology authors studying affect and motivation are contending, “Both researchers and practitioners have come to appreciate the limits of exclusively cognitive approaches for understanding the initiation and regulation of human behavior… As we take interest in human performance, adaptation and wellness, issues of affect regulation and motivation are thus salient topics that can no longer be relegated to the periphery” (Ryan, 2007). Towards that end, the paradigm shift is away from explicit left brain cognitive regulation and the voluntary suppression of negative affect into implicit “right hemispheric specialization in regulating stress - and emotion-related processes” (Sullivan & Dufresne, 2006).

These concepts have been incorporated into clinical models of the psychotherapy change process. In 2003 I proposed, “the psychobiologically attuned therapist acts as an interactive affect regulator of the patient’s dysregulated state. This model clearly suggests that the therapist’s role is much more than interpreting to the developmentally disordered patient either distortions of the transference, or unintegrated early attachment experiences that occur in incoherent moments of the patient’s narrative” (Schore, 2003). Even more than the patient’s late-acting rational, analytical and verbal left mind, the growth-facilitating psychotherapeutic relationship needs to directly access the deeper psychobiological strata of the implicit regulatory structures of both the patient’s and the clinician’s right minds. Alvarez (2006) asserts, “Schore points out that at the more severe levels of psychopathology, it is not a question of making the unconscious conscious: rather it is a question of restructuring the unconscious itself.”

The paradigm shift thus suggests that at this point in time no theoretical model of change process can be exclusively psychological. Rather, it must be consonant with what we now know about the implicit psychobiological operations of the right brain, the biological substrate of the human unconscious. Keenan et al. (2003) observe: “By casting the right hemisphere in terms of self, we have a revolutionary way of thinking about the brain. A new model of the brain, therefore, must take into account the primary importance of the right hemisphere in establishing and maintaining our sense of awareness of ourselves and others.”

In conclusion I’d like to return to the beginning of this talk, to the matter of a rapprochement of psychoanalysis and other sciences. Ten years ago I wrote:

Is the time right? I suggest that the answer to this fundamental question involves much more than an objective appraisal of the match or mismatch of different current bodies of knowledge, although this is certainly a part of the process. But in addition to this, the response of psychoanalysis will have to involve a reintegration of its own internal theoretical divisions, a reassessment of its educational priorities, a reevaluation of its current predominant emphasis on cognition, especially verbal mechanisms, as well as a reworking of its Cartesian mind–body dichotomies. This redefinition involves the identity of psychoanalysis itself, in terms of its self-reference and its relations with the other sciences (Schore, 1997).

I am most grateful to the Division for this award, because it signals to me that the time is now right.

Allan Schore