Written by Jeffrey Zimmerman
Reviewed by Yifan Zhang
For some time, most narrative therapists focused their style of treatment on an externalized way of objective story telling. However, few of the treatment guidelines in the narrative realm focused on the importance of emotions. Jeffery Zimmerman, a pioneer in connecting neuroscience with narrative therapy, thus used this book to raise awareness of the importance of privileging affect in narrative treatments. The main premise is that emotion is a powerful source to make narrative therapies more efficient; emotions, he explains, can be aroused during treatments through background knowledge of neuroscience because our brain’s right hemisphere controls our perceptions of colors, smells, and affects.
Zimmerman introduced many novel theories to back up his focus on emotion, including Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) as developed by Dan Siegel and Allan Schore and post-structural practices. In short, IPNB introduces the innovative idea that the connections between people’s minds and brains can be understood through a mixed lens of different subjects in sciences.
In a nutshell, this book’s main argument contends that we need to privilege emotions in narrative therapies using neuro practices such as IPNB. Surprisingly, the book’s structure offers concise and clear guidance for readers to understand the intricate ideas discussed. The book is divided into six chapters, starting with an introduction of how we ended up with only a few therapists using narrative therapy today focused on the Neuro sides of the treatments. It then goes on to specifically discuss brain theories and connection with emotions, including discussions of Interpersonal Neurobiology. Later chapters incorporate transcripts from psychotherapy sessions with clients to further show us how can we incorporate emotions in narrative therapies.
My favorite aspect of the book is the concise explanations of the brain. Instead of drowning us with scientific facts, Zimmerman used metaphors that make it easy for readers to picture the abstract ideas. For example, he used three eras of animal evolution to present the different hierarchies of brain parts and their functions. The brainstem/cerebellum is considered ‘reptilian’ because it’s responsible for the basic instinctive functions of humans. The amygdala/limbic system is ‘mammalian’, operating on a slightly higher level of function because is are in charge of more responses beyond instincts. Finally, the neocortex is seen as the ‘modern’ one because it goes beyond the two above and is responsive to many complex human actions including communications. The three layers not only give us a basic idea about the grouping of different parts of the brain, they also summarize the differences and hierarchy among these parts. It’s a clear, enlightening, and lively way of expression even for readers who have only a basic understanding about brain structures.
Besides great explanations of brain functions, Zimmerman’s argumentation layout is also consistent. He is good at dividing a topic into differentiated smaller parts, discussing them individually, then integrating all parts back again to understand the entity as a whole. This structure of discussion is reflected in the general organization of the book. When discussing neuro-narrative therapy as the center topic of this book, he used the first three chapters to explain what narrative therapies are and how they ended up in styles of treatment that focus less on emotions but more on the objective story-telling—the ‘narrative’ part. Then, he continued to discuss the brain structure, as well as the connection between neuro and affects—the ‘neuro’ part. At the end, he started to connect the two differentiated parts by discussing how interpersonal neurobiology can be used to better narrative therapy practices. Speaking of IPNB, I think this book did a great job in promoting its existence and importance. At least, it’s new to my understandings of science, interactions and therapies.
One weakness of this book is a lack of explanation of references to other authors. Zimmerman quoted Dr. Dan Siegel and Michael White often. When I read, I got confused about who these people were and why they were important to the content being presented. For amateur readers like me, I think it’s important to research these authors while reading the book; otherwise, it is hard to fully understand the author’s discussions as he referred to these other authors often. Also, I think the author needs to elaborate on his analysis of the transcripts he incorporated. Sometimes, he commented that this specific clip of conversation reflected how the counselor’s guidance transformed the patients’ attention from problems to other places. But it’s too implicit for readers to understand what he meant. He definitely needs to elaborate more, going into details about every action performed by clients or counselors, and how those resonate with his points.
In conclusion, Neuro-Narrative Therapy is an eye-opening book with its innovative approach to bring neurological aspects under the spotlight of narrative therapies. Despite its implicit references to other authors, this book in general is easy to understand, clear, and consistent in its structure. I definitely recommend it to those interested in narrative therapies and who want to improve the efficiency of this type of treatment.
Jeffrey Zimmerman, PHD, is the director of the Bay Area Family Therapy Training Associates and uses this book to encourage his students and colleagues to incorporate neuroscience into narrative treatments. He has been a licensed psychotherapist in CT and NY for over 35 years.
Yifan Zhang currently studies psychology at New York University as a sophomore. She interned as a clinical assistant in Zhang Shu Sheng Clinic of Neurology last summer. As a mentor for high school girls of color in NYC as well as a mentor for first-generation international students at NYU, she strives for equality and justice for all. She is passionate about music technology and social psychology, hoping to use music as a way to improve social relationships between people.
Zimmerman, J. (2018). Neuro-Narrative Therapy: New Possibilities for Emotion-Filled Conversations. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-71137-0. Available in hardcover. Hardcover. 220 pages. Includes references and index.