Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) is a theory and practical working model which describes human development and functioning as being a product of the interactions between the body, mind, and relationships. As such, it highlights how we are relational beings and helps us to understand what precisely happens in relationships. These insights allow us to get a grip on the interaction between what can be observed objectively in our brains, our subjective inner experience (mind) and our relationships. See video below.
“IPNB is not a way of doing something, it is a way of understanding the nature of being human."
IPNB was developed by the American psychiatrist Dan Siegel. Heavily rooted in attachment theory and neurobiology, it is truly an interdisciplinary approach. Starting form the question ‘What is the mind and how is it connected to the brain?’ Siegel assembled a team of 40 scientists from different disciplines (anthropology, sociology, linguistics, mathematics, physics, biology, psychology, psychiatry, etc.) and searched for a common ground. The ultimate goal of IPNB is to promote wellbeing and resilience at a personal and interpersonal level and eventually in society.
Isolation and connection
I am fascinated by how a person develops in relation over the lifespan. An essential developmental task entails finding a balance between standing alone on the one hand and on the other hand experiences of deep connection with others. I believe that how a person manages this tension is core to the individual. It is also key to the therapeutic process which is a relational co-creation embedded in a larger field of cultural, societal, and historical influences. Body-processes (mine and the clients) inform me of what emerges from one moment to another.
IPNB clarifies these processes and offers practical tools to support clients to release the natural drive towards healing there where there are blockages.
Integration as basis for health
A fundamental perspective from IPNB is that integration is the basis of health. Lack of integration in the brain, be it areas which are under-developed or lack of linkage between different brain areas, may cause blockage. This is expressed by either rigidity at one end of the spectrum and/ or chaos at the other end. Examples of rigidity: rumination, not being able to react with flexibility to changes, getting stuck in relational patterns, etc. Examples of chaos: emotional overwhelm, inability to get life organized, lack of coherence, etc. The variations on this theme are infinite. This is what makes each person, each story, each relationship fascinating and complex. This touches me time and time again.
The good news here is neuroplasticity or the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. Awareness of the strategies that lead to increased neural integration supports my interventions as a psychotherapist. This allows the natural flow towards integration and health to be restored and leads for example to better self-regulation and problem-solving which lies at the heart of wellbeing.
Experiment with flexibility in co-creation
The ability to respond flexibly and creatively to new and changing conditions instead of responding automatically and reflexively is essential to maintain mental health. In psychotherapy sessions I strive to allow a client to experiment with this flexibility. These experiences offer perspective and space. This allows a widening of the possibilities with which a person meets life’s challenges. To free blockages and limiting patterns, I like to include aspects of body-psychotherapy in my work. This invites a new self-awareness. The aim of psychotherapy is for a person to be able to approach life and relations being flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable.