Although the title is the Mindful Therapist, a clinicians' guide, (and it is a breakthrough book for psychotherapists) this book is also valuable for anyone who is interested in deepening their understanding of how our minds work and how we affect the minds (and brains) of other people.
Dan Siegel is a remarkable teacher and this book is another in his series of books explaining interpersonal neurobiology. He is a gifted writer, often poetic in his explanations and descriptions of fundamental mental processes. He successfully addresses a multitude of crucial topics from exploring the experience of self, to what it means to be in resonance with another person or with oneself.
He introduces the reader to the latest brain science research, explores the nature of mind and neural integration in our brains and increases our depth of understanding of mindfulness and empathy. He opens up new ways of making sense of our inner world (the conscious and the unconscious) and he creates a framework to view what we may have seen and known previously but now with a new depth of knowledge he creates an entirely new level of understanding.
In previous work he had described a valuable human capability: "mindsight". He characterized it as "a type of focused attention that allows us to see the workings of our own minds and allows us to reshape our inner experience, to increase our freedom, as well as to be fully open to another person's inner experience". In this book he goes further in showing the components and workings of this ability and how to increase our capacity to use this in our clinical work and in our lives.
He wrote this book to be read as if the reader and he were having a conversation (and it is). I had to laugh when at one point he expanded a concept explaining how the mind and brain process memory and I was just going over and over this in my mind trying to grasp the full meaning of what he was explaining.
My response at such frustration is usually to close the book and look for something to eat. His next sentence in the book was: "Yes, this appears difficult and you probably want to close the book now.... but you can comprehend this with a little more effort". And it is well worth the effort.
This is part of his gift as a teacher; to know where a student (reader) may be, and to then engage them in a way that takes them to a deeper and more complex level of understanding. He is a unique writer in this respect and was once referred to as the Mr. Wizard of our generation. (Mr. Wizard had a TV show (a million years ago) and he introduced the science of everyday life with wonder and excitement. Dan Siegel does this.
I do not mean to suggest that this is a dry scientific text. On the contrary, this is a uniquely rich, exciting, practical and readable book. Because of his writing style, this quickly becomes a rewarding and exciting conversation with Dan Siegel. It will stretch ones thinking by introducing new areas of scientific research and new ways of seeing the complexity of how our mind works and how the brain is continually evolving.
He introduces new ways of understanding "mental illness" (actually any thinking that is either rigid or chaotic). And like a great teacher, he establishes the potential roots of these problems, and in stages, expands our knowledge to fully conceptualize a new view. He then suggests how to integrate all this information into the practice of psychotherapy in order to help another person develop more fully.
This is a book that should to be close at hand. Just as having a good friend or colleague available to take a walk with and discuss and explore new ideas with, this book serves the function of opening the reader's mind to see things in a new light.
It is like a fine soup chock full of exciting and interesting flavors and thoughts. Some concepts you may think you have tasted previously but in his recipe he takes them to new levels of understanding, nuance and integration creating a synergy of flavors for a hungry mind.
Each chapter has a section that focuses directly on the more scientific information (Brain Matters) and another section with actual exercises for the reader to do (Mindsight Skills). This approach is quite useful because the concepts presented can be understood on both the intellectual cognitive level and the experiential subjective level as the book is read. In addition these exercises can be practical tools that can be used with clients.
His description and useful visual models of the dimensions of human experience are illuminating. The relationship between the mind and actual changes in neuronal structure explain why old patterns of behavior have a high probability of occurring again and again unless real neuronal change occurs.
He explains clearly and beautifully how our thoughts (often mindless preconceptions) and automatic actions (impulses) continue to effect and reinforce our own brain structure. And he reminds us how unfortunately this inevitably effects the mind and the neuronal wiring of the person we are interacting with.
Throughout the book he explains and suggests the importance of continually improving ones "mindsight" and how to creatively and intentionally develop this in oneself. He illustrates how this will have a direct effect on what can occur in psychotherapy as well as any relationship.
And Dr Siegel, neuroscientist, uses the L word without shame. In fact Dr Siegel clearly describes the importance of "love" neurologically. He separates the various types of love and shows that on a fundamental level of our neurobiology, "love " and empathy help develop our minds which affects neuronal growth and therefore actually shape our brains and the brains of those we interact with.
This book is valuable for therapists and to everyone who wants to maximize their own knowledge of themselves and to learn how to recognize and develop "mindsight" within themselves. Dan Siegel introduces cutting edge brain science and mindfulness practices and integrates all this information making it understandable and useful in the real world of being with ourselves and interacting with others.
Laurence Drell, MD