HE.S.T.A.F.T.A. - Scientific Society of Mental Health Professionals


Book review: Βοοk: Group Psychotherapy and Interpersonal Neurobiology, 2020

Theodora Skali

Teaching Staff in Psychology, MSc, PhD, Department of Medicine, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece, Psychotherapist, ECP, GCP

The book _Group Psychotherapy and Interpersonal Neurobiology _ is published by the Hellenic Network of Group Analysts and Topos Books in the Greek language (originally titled The Interpersonal Neurobiology of Group Psychotherapy , Susan P. Gantt & Bonnie Badenoch) in the series Group Analysis. It is a book of great interest for group psychotherapists and not only!

The book, edited by Theodora Skali, Teaching Staff in Psychology, MSc, Ph.D. (Department of Medicine, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece) and Psychotherapist, and Konstantinos Morogiannis, Psychiatrist and Group Analyst, is a collection of important clinical work by thirteen experienced group psychotherapists from various psychotherapeutic approaches and other specialist clinics. The experts attempt to document, through Neurobiological data, how group processes interact with brain processes, enhancing physical development and the remedial processes of the brain, leading to the use of the term “Interpersonal Neurobiology”.

Despite the long history of Group Psychotherapy, it was Interpersonal Neurobiology - the new scientific field that emerged mainly from Daniel’s Siegel (1999, 2012), Allan’s Schore (1994, 2012), and Louis’s Cozolino (2006, 2010) work - which enabled Group Psychotherapists to document their long-term empirical observations. Thus, in this book, we can follow a systematic attempt of the authors to link group processes to the principles of Interpersonal Neurobiology. The main idea of Interpersonal Neurobiology that _"human beings, through their interactions, shape each other's brains throughout their lives" _ represents a very fruitful approach for any mental health professional – especially group psychotherapists – since it implies that group members’ minds, through their interaction, will be able to be understood and transformed, and therefore their relational patterns will also be comprehended.

The book offers a lot to our understanding of how various group psychotherapy approaches focusing on interpersonal and intrapersonal interactions, work in the psychosocial area of our bio-psychosocial existence. Thus, in the book’s chapters, we find all the recent scientific knowledge about brain plasticity, mirror neurons, autonomic nervous system, implicit and explicit memory, affect regulation and the connection between attachment developmental stages and brain development.

Βased on this knowledge,  the authors present their therapeutic work with a variety of groups of adults, adolescents, and children. Thus, we can study how Systemic-Centered Therapy creates a rich neurobiological climate that promotes integration; how groups of children can contribute to sensory-motor, psychological and interpersonal development; how by utilising the theoretical framework of Interpersonal Neurobiology we can help couples achieve a more stable interpersonal regulation; and, finally, how experiential learning groups can affect implicit memory.


The First Chapter, ** Interpersonal Neurobiology in Group Psychotherapy ** by Bonnie Badenoch and Paul Cox, discusses the importance of Interpersonal Neurobiology for Group Psychotherapy.

The chapter is followed by a brief comment, written by Daniel Siegel, entitled "Thoughts on the Mind, Brain, and Relationships in Group Psychotherapy". The author highlights the mind, brain, and behavior as major aspects of human experience, of particular importance in the process of change. He proposes the emphasis on attention – the main brain skill - as a method of stimulating new forms of neural activity, which can make group members experience new behaviors in the "here and now", thus promoting neural integration.

The next chapter is written by Victor Schermeris and is entitled “ ** Mirror Neurons: Their Involvement in Group Psychotherapy” .** The author summarizes the research on mirror neurons and discusses the possible applications of the relevant research in group psychotherapy.

More specifically, the author develops the idea of how mirror neurons prove the significance of relationships –a perpetual position for group therapists- and connects this knowledge of mirror neurons with how the group is perceived as a whole. Based on this social context of the concept of perception, the author also discusses how this affects the therapists that are involved in a group psychotherapeutic process as well, and he extends the discussion to group therapists’ training.

In Chapter 3 entitled **“ Group Psychotherapy and Neuroplasticity: Attachment Theory” ** , the author, Philip Flores, refers to brain scanning studies that have documented changes in the brains of patients undergoing psychotherapy, and highlights some central ideas of attachment theory that are connected to neuro-pathways’ brain changes. Leaning on these, Flores points out some central findings of neurobiological research and suggests five key factors influencing brain neuroplasticity during group therapeutic interactions.

In Chapter 4, “ ** Systems Centered Training (SCT) and Interpersonal Neurobiology” ** , the authors Susan Gannt and Yvonne Agazarian introduce the concept of "team mind", linking Systemic Thinking with Interpersonal Neurobiology through the method of functional subgrouping. The functional subgroup is a group method for conflict resolution, which enhances the ability to distinguish and integrate differences for the benefit of development. The authors discuss the method of functional subgrouping from the perspective of Interpersonal Neurobiology, as a tool for the development of the group mind, demonstrating the potential of the method to regulate emotions, create a secure relational framework and enhance neural integration.

In Chapter 5, “ ** _Group Psychotherapy and Couples: Marital Passion and _ ** ** Ν ** ** eo-cortex” ** _, _ Don Ferguson describes an implementation of neurobiological research findings into couples’ psychotherapy practice, drawing on the work of couples therapists who have applied neurobiology findings to their therapeutic practice. The suggested couples’ therapy group model includes a psychoeducational stage during which couples learn how the human brain works, and then participate in an eight-session model.

In Chapter 6, “ ** Sensorimotor Group Psychotherapy with Children and adolescents” ** , Bonnie Mark-Goldstein and Pat Ogden provide a review of Sensorimotor Group Psychotherapy with children, based on the principles of Interpersonal Neurobiology.  Τhe emphasis here is placed on how group facilitators’ “holding” skills  promote a sense of security that children need  in order to be able to change.

Mitchel Adler, presents his group model in the seventh chapter entitled ** "Hunger and longing: A developmental regulation model for exploring core relational needs” ** . Adler focuses on the regulatory role of the group in managing issues related to humans’ deep desire to connect, a desire located in the limbic system of the brain.

Specifically, he presents an eight-stage model that has been developed to manage the relational issues that arise in a group psychotherapy setting, based on Interpersonal Neurobiology, on regulatory function of the facilitator and also on the group itself.

In Chapter 8, **“ Group Psychotherapy and Couples: Marital Instability and Neuropsychophysiological Dysregulation” ** , Gloria Batkin Kahn and Darryl Feldman present their own model of working with couples, drawing on attachment theory neurobiology.

In the ninth and final chapter of the book, entitled “ ** Group psychotherapy training for professionals in the implicit” ** _, _ the discussion goes beyond group therapy, as it refers to an experiential learning group, where Bonnie Badenoch applies all her knowledge of Group Processes and Interpersonal Neurobiology. The emphasis here is on exploring how the facilitator shapes the group and vice versa.

The common ground of all the chapters could be summarized as follows:

The way in which organic systems, in their relation and synergy, are reflected in relational systems. The chapters are not solely confined in discussing the application of neurobiology to different types of group psychotherapy, but also, through the collaboration between the authors, a more ambitious goal is achieved: namely the establishment of a broader theory that could expand οur biopsychosocial understanding about human existence.

Thus, an exciting narrative for the implementation of the principles of a multi-disciplinary view of Interpersonal Neurobiology emerges, in the study of the “Mind-Brain-Relation” triangle.

The authors lead us with clarity and simplicity through their respective fields of clinical practice of group psychotherapy, having integrated into it the latest research data of Interpersonal Neurobiology.

This approach essentially leads to a new scientific model, with implications for both theory and technique of group psychotherapy, and also for the way we understand human existence in general. For example, the old psychodynamic idea of the therapist’s distancing is subject to a new discussion in the light of neurological "relational" data, as is Cartesian dualism that basically implies mind-brain separation.

The Interpersonal Neurobiology data, especially those concerning mirror neurons, support the approach where the self, the world, and the group form a unity from one’s birth. This approach is close to S. H. Foulkes’ work about “Individual and Group at the same time”, as well as to N. Elias' theoretical thought, according to which the individual is a level of the group and the group - and therefore society - is a level of nature.

The authors of course note that basically we are still in the area of creative understanding of group process and group psychotherapy; an understanding enriched by the frequently impressive findings of Neurosciences. However, as they point out, we are still a long distance away, from the area of "hard" data.

_Overall, I could say that this book is a  fascinating synthesis of Group Psychotherapy and Neurosciences! _

September 4th 2021

Theodora Skali


Support the online journal "Systemic Thinking & Psychotherapy" by making a donation today.Donate