Neuroscience talk by Francine Lapides, LMFT

On November 13th, 2015 SCV-CAMFT (a group of Bay Area therapists) gathered for a wonderful lunch and an extremely thoughtful presentation by Francine Lapides, LMFT. If you are just learning of Ms. Lapides, as I did in November, I recommend you seek out a training with her.  Or perhaps therapy with her if you are in the Santa Cruz area.  She has a training group coming up in the new year focused on psychoneurology.  The group will help you deeply explore how knowing more about the brain can help you be a better therapist.  One could call Francine our local Dan Siegel. She has studied with him for years and additionally has been a part of Allan Schore's Berkeley study group. Francine Lapides has been a licensed MFT since 1974. She is a decades-long member of SCV-CAMFT and she is in private practice in San Jose and Santa Cruz, California.

In Ms. Lapides talk, “Working Implicitly in Psychotherapy: What Decades of Neuroscience Study Has Taught Me About Being a Psychotherapist” she started by reminding us that infants are primarily right brained and this right brain development continues for the first two to three years of life. Attachment templates are stored in the right brain.  The take away is; in order to heal trauma we need to address both the unconscious and conscious areas of the brain. As therapists we see first hand how these early traumas can shape a person. Some of these traumas leave us with resiliency while others leave us more rigid.  Francine took us through some basic neuroscience during the first portion of the talk. This time acted as our “infancy” in neuroscience (if we did not already have that knowledge). Even if you did have prior neuroscience knowledge her information was a great review. She shared the Winnicott quote, “There is no such thing as a baby ... if you set out to describe a baby, you will find you are describing a baby and someone.'' (Winnicott, 1947).  The relationship heals because we are relational human beings.  We can help our clients make meaning of early trauma.  This healing rooted in the physiology of neuroscience is more helpful if done with a bottom up (or body to head direction).  The limbic system and attachment theory dominate .  As stated on Mrs. Lapides slides: “Early life experiences create potent affective “knowing” in implicit, non-verbal, unconscious memory which underlie and have a profound influence on personality, dominate mood, symptoms and relationships throughout life.”  

As we transitioned to the second section of the talk Mrs. Lapides invited someone to come up to the front of the room and summarize what they had just learned about neuroscience. There were crickets.  We all behaved as though we were glued to our seats. She let the perfect amount of silence play out before she joked that she was just getting our heart rates up so we could feel our prefrontal cortex at work. As many of you likely know the prefrontal cortex is the part of our brains that helps us regulate emotion. Francine’s "experiment" was perfectly set up as a process experiential learning exercise. We have the basics of neuroscience, we are asked to come talk about it in front of the group, and then upon finding out we actually don’t have to, we can then re-regulate. 

Just like intherapy (week after week), we invite our clients to talk, or draw, or move through their way through trauma.  They might turn us down but as the relationship and trust grows we can begin to help them heal. This ability to manage activation helps us access our unconscious beliefs. There are, as Francine shared, “implicit relational schemas” or unconscious beliefs that all of us have. For example, we may unconsciously believe that, “If I try to perform and fail, people will think less of me." These are, of course, the thoughts and feelings we want to target in therapy. The question of how this can be done while integrating neuroscience will be address in the intensive study group Francine will offer.  She will address the clinical skills of: “trusting your intuition, somatic transference, intimacy and self disclosure, rupture and repair,” and much more. I wish I lived closer to Santa Cruz! This group will surely be helpful.

She stated, “While the overwhelming bias in western psychotherapy has been a top down primarily left brain model of conscious and verbal attempts at change, neuroscience is increasingly confirming that we must work in this right brain, unconscious, body-based arena as well.”  When she spoke of the “bottom up” way of working with our clients she mentioned poetry because it has more of a right brain connection. She mention prosody or “the patterns of rhythm and sound used in poetry” according to Webster’s online dictionary. Using poetry or other right brain activities with our clients can help them access and heal their trauma. I also found the interventions Francine offered at the end of her talk to be helpful. Instead of asking left brained questions we can shift statements more into a right brain experience. For example, instead of: “Your father’s anger was uncontrolled and made you feel unsafe” the right brain is more able to hear, “When you father exploded in range, you felt terrified and small.” Instead of offering, “It will be important for you to know I’m hear,” clinicians can try a more right-brained approach such as asking, “Can you look at me, can you feel me here with you”? If you were at the luncheon you heard Francine’s calm seasoned voice. It was healing in a room of almost 100 colleagues. I hope you get a sense of her way of being from this short description.