Allan N. Schore, PhD

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The Right Brain Implicit Self Lies at the Core of Psychoanalysis

Allan N. Schore, PhD
UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine

A more profound and comprehensive understanding of the organizing principles of this rapid acting and therefore nonconscious right brain “physiological” implicit core system can provide not only essential and relevant clinical and experimental data, but also a theoretical lens which can illuminate and penetrate the fundamental problems addressed by psychoanalytic science.  Just as studies of the left brain, dominant for language and verbal processing, can never elucidate the unique nonverbal functions of the right, studies of the output of the explicit functions of the conscious mind in verbal transcripts or narratives can never reveal the implicit psychobiological dynamics of the unconscious mind (Schore, 1994, 2003a).  

This neuropsychoanalytic perspective echoes Freud’s fundamental assertion that the central questions of the human condition, which psychoanalysis directly addresses, can never be found in knowledge of how the conscious mind of the explicit self system works, but rather in a deeper understanding of the implicit psychobiological mechanisms of the unconscious mind.  Other fields of study are now appreciating the importance of this unconscious realm in all levels of human existence.  Thus not only psychoanalysis but a large number of disciplines in both the sciences and the arts are now experiencing a paradigm shift from explicit conscious cognition to implicit unconscious affect.  In a recent editorial of the journal Motivation and Emotion, Richard Ryan asserts, “After three decades of the dominance of cognitive approaches, motivational and emotional processes have roared back into the limelight” (2007, p. 1).  A large number of interdisciplinary studies are now converging upon the centrality of these implicit right brain motivational and emotional processes that are essential to adaptive functioning.

Role of Implicit Learning in Contemporary Psychoanalysis

In this discussion I will describe a surface, verbal, conscious, analytic explicit self vs. a deeper nonverbal, nonconscious, holistic, emotional corporeal implicit self.  These two lateralized systems contain qualitatively different forms of cognition and therefore ways of “knowing,” as well as different memory systems and states of consciousness.  But I will argue that implicit (nonconscious) functions are much more than than just learning, memory, and attention, processes highlighted by cognitive psychology.  A psychological theory of cognition, even unconscious cognition, can not penetrate the fundamental questions of development, psychopathology, and the change process of psychotherapy.  In addition to implicit cognition (right brain unconscious processing of exteroceptive information from the outer world and interoceptive information from the inner world) the implicit concept also includes implicit affect, implicit communication, and implicit self-regulation.  The ongoing paradigm shift from the explicit cognitive to the implicit affective realm is driven by both new experimental data on emotional processes and updated clinical models for working with affective systems.
Freud (1915) stressed that the work of psychotherapy is always concerned with affect states.  In my first book I expanded upon this therapeutic principle, asserting that affects are “the center of empathic communication,” and that “the regulation of conscious and unconscious feelings is placed in the center of the clinical stage” (Schore, 1994). Consonant with these ideas, the essential clinical role of implicit affect is underscored in current neuroscience research reporting unconscious processing of emotional stimuli is specifically associated with activation of the right and not left hemisphere (Morris, Ohman, & Dolan, 1998), and documenting a “right hemispheric dominance in processing of unconscious negative emotion” (Sato & Aoki, 2006) and a “cortical response to subjectively unconscious danger” (Carretie, 2005).  This work establishes the validity of the concept of unconscious (and also dissociated) affect, a common focus of the treatment of pathological defenses.
In this same volume I offered a model of implicit communications within the therapeutic relationship, whereby transference-countertransference right brain-to-right brain communications represent interactions of the patient’s unconscious primary process system and the therapist’s primary process system (Schore, 1994).  Neuroscience documents that although the left hemisphere mediates most linguistic behaviors, the right hemisphere is important for the broader aspects of communication.  This research also indicates that “The right hemisphere operates in a more free-associative, primary process manner, typically observed in states such as dreaming or reverie” (Grabner et al., 2007,  p. 228). 
Congruent with this model Dorpat (2001) describes the implicit process of “primary process communication” expressed in “both body movements (kinesics), posture, gesture, facial expression, voice inflection, and the sequence, rhythm, and pitch of the spoken words (p. 451).”  According to his formulation affective and object-relational information are transmitted predominantly by primary process communication, while secondary process communication has a highly complex and powerful logical syntax but lacks adequate semantics in the field of relationships.  In light of the fact that the left hemisphere is dominant for language but the right for emotional communication, I have proposed that the psychotherapy process is best described not as “the talking cure” but “the communicating” cure (Schore, 2005).  Chused (2007) now asserts, “I suspect our field has not yet fully appreciated the importance of this implicit communication (p. 879).”