Therapy is sometimes referred to as a science. And with the growing popularity of neuroscience in therapy circles, it’s easy to see why—learning about how the brain functions and using that knowledge to heal lends credibility to a field where day-to-day client progress is sometimes tough to measure.

But according to acclaimed psychiatrist Dan Siegel, a professor at UCLA’s School of Medicine, director of the Mindsight Institute, and author of The Developing Mind, a distinction needs to be made between the work of brain scientists and psychotherapists. The difference, he says, is that while therapists can be knowledgeable about the workings of the brain, their work deals primarily with the mind.

“Almost every mental health problem—anxiety, depression, eating disorders, personality disorders, thinking disorders—are issues of self-regulation,” says Siegel. “Ultimately the goal of therapy is to optimize the coordinated flow of energy and information.”

So what does this mean for therapy practice? In this video clip, Siegel explains his concept of the mind, as well as how to assess whether your client’s mind is healthy or in need of what he refers to as regulation.

As Siegel explains, knowing how the mind functions is key to helping your clients tap into a fuller sense of themselves and how they relate to others. What’s more, Siegel says, how therapy unfolds between your client and yourself can tell you about your own relational mind, and reveal hidden elements in your client’s mood, hopes, dreams, longings, and intentions.

“The past 40 years have given us a view of the mind that encompasses an emergent, self-organizing, embodied, and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information,” Siegel says. “Now, more than ever, we as mental health practitioners need to be aware of the crucial importance of integration in human functioning and find ways to harness the power of psychotherapy to create a kinder, more compassionate, and integrated world.”

Rich Simon

Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day. 

Dan Siegel

Longtime Psychotherapy Networker contributor Daniel J. Siegel, MD, is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and completed his postgraduate medical education at UCLA with training in pediatrics and child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry. He is currently a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, founding co-director of UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, founding co-investigator at the UCLA Center for Culture, Brain and Development, and executive director of the Mindsight Institute, an educational center devoted to promoting insight, compassion, and empathy in individuals, families, institutions, and communities. Dr. Siegel’s psychotherapy practice spans thirty years, and he has published extensively for the professional audience. He serves as the Founding Editor for the Norton Professional Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology which includes over 70 textbooks.