I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.

Emo Phillips

The Role of the Brain

A great deal of attention has been focused on what the recent study of the brain contributes to psychotherapy and knowledge about feeling better. It could be conjectured, that if Wilhelm Reich and Alexander Lowen had developed their theories now, they would be less concerned about life below the neck, and happier to concentrate above the neck. After all, it is said, the brain is part of the body.

However, no one is actually laying hands on the brain, and the brain can easily become a metaphorical stand-in for the ego or will in discussions. Most study of the brain seems chemistry oriented rather than biology oriented. That is, it focuses on individual mechanisms with cause and effect thinking, rather than focusing on life processes that are reciprocal.

It is also important to keep in mind, that the map is not the territory. While the brain probably monitors everything that goes on in the body (and perhaps also the mind) that is not the same as the brain actually being the place where everything happens. Of course the brain, as a map, is a wonderfully self-updating map! It is also a map that has become a control panel that cannot be dispensed with. Brain plasticity makes no sense apart from the body plasticity, or perhaps better, human plasticity.

Cognitive work has a disappointingly slim record at making people feel much better for very long. It does have a better record for making people feel somewhat better for a while. In cognitive therapy, most practitioners think of the task as replacing bad ideas with good ideas. Now, in a similar way, body-shy workers may think of the task as replacing bad synapses, by using the will and intellect to choose the proper experiences, and keep control. The brain has become a new homunculus which drives the body, and by its organization, determines happiness or misery. The brain is a real organ of course, but within the context of conversational therapy, the brain is an ego-mediated concept which doesn't require quite the seeming loss of control that self-regulation does.

Alexander Lowen encouraged people to get more in touch with themselves below the waist. He certainly encouraged people to get in better touch with themselves below the neck. The attraction of brain metaphors seems to be the very flight from heart- and belly- led living that this tradition seeks to restore. Growth is a process that occurs outside the realm of control. It takes a faith in life for us to allow it to work. The attraction of brain metaphors of healing may be the hope that mentally-led living can work after all. The intellect has more impact, however, and provides more creative contributions, when it is working together with the rest of the person.