The Riggs Blog

Incoming Medical Director/CEO, Andrew Gerber, MD, PhD Interviewed in New York Times Magazine Article

"Psychoanalysis needs to change its culture," states Dr. Gerber in the June 28 New York Times Magazine.  Dr. Gerber and others discuss the value of combining brain research with psychoanalysis. Below are excerpts from the article which seeks to answer the question, "Can brain-scanning help save Freudian psychoanalysis?"

     For the last decade, they have been working together to combine psychoanalysis with brain
     research, in an effort to understand where mental functions so comprehensively described by 
     psychoanalytic theory -- unconscious memory processes, for instance, or the way we
     regulate emotions and impulses -- might be playing out in the brain.

Seeking to answer the question of how "our ailing minds ever get better," Dr. Gerber states:

     I had the sense that we had this amazing tool...an analyst sits with a patient, and over the
     course of weeks, months, years, the person changes. It's not just behavioral change. 
     Something changes about the person's structure, their character structure.  Their personality
     changes...Every patient who has experienced it says to you: Something shifted inside me..."

Dr. Gerber and others have been researching this process and trying to make sense of what is happening. In over a decade of observations for one of his earliest studies, Dr. Gerber

      ...saw a pattern in the patients who progressed the most...Roughly in the middle of their
      treatment, they went through a period of intense flux, oscillating between extremes of
      behavior, before they began to improve. Gerber uses a term from chemistry to capture what
      he saw: 'annealing,' the act of heating something so that all its molecules dance around
      wildly and then slowly cooling it back down so that it assume a new and more stable state.

This observation left Dr. Gerber with the question of where to look next. Over the years, additional research demonstrated, via brain-imaging studies that "psychotherapy -- even without medication -- had measurable, physical consequences in the brain."

Psychotherapy at Austen RiggsCombining forces with others, new questions and observations evolved including "how our significant relationships influence subsequent ones."  When this concept exists between therapist and patient, in psychoanalytic terms, it is known as transference.  "By using fMRI, Gerber and Peterson (Bradley Peterson, a psychoanalyst, child psychiatrist and the director of the institute for the Developing Mind at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles) have been exploring which parts of the brain rumble to life when transference kicks in....Gerber and his team are still analyzing the data..." So stay tuned.

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