The Case of Yael by Louis Breger, Ph.D.
One of the proposals arising from social neurobiological research is that the brains of therapists and clients in a long term, psychodynamic relationship light up in a manner and pattern that is similar to that of the brains of lovers. Conversely, the brains of those who are working with counselors, consultants, or executive coaches light up as if they were interacting with a friend rather than a lover — and the brains of their counselor, consultant or coach lights up in a similar manner (replicating the manner and pattern of friendship-based relationships). Thus, when we talk about the transferential and counter-transferential dynamics operating in psychodynamic therapy, we should recognize that the neuro-biologically based challenges for both therapist and client are great. Their brains are telling them that this is love and that they should both act accordingly (shattering all of the prescribed boundaries in the therapeutic alliance).
We might imagine that the brains of both Yael and Lou are lighting up as if they were lovers. It is only the relationship (third entity) created by Yael and Lou that is establishing and reestablishing the boundaries. While the therapeutic alliance is intended as a foundation for the establishment of a warm and nurturing relationship, it is also intended as a foundation for the establishment of shared trust and the safe container (in which the client’s anxiety can be experienced and expressed, yet also bounded).
The social neurobiologists might suggest that a related neuro-biological process is evoked in the relationship established between Yael and Lou. We know that human beings (more than any other organism) have a high concentration of a neurotransmitter called “oxytocin” that is coursing through their veins (and brains). Oxytocin is known as a “bonding” agent, which promotes the inclination of human beings to be with one another in a nurturing relationship. From an evolutionary standpoint, this bonding inclination makes sense, since the new-born human infant is less able to cope with the world than virtually any other neonate. This highly vulnerable organism is very much in need of attention and protection from a caring adult. And it is not a bad idea to have several adults around who consistently are there to nurture the new-born child. Hence, there is a need for committed relationships and communities of care.