Home Book Reviews The Human Elements of Psychotherapy: A Nonmedical Model of Emotional Healing

The Human Elements of Psychotherapy: A Nonmedical Model of Emotional Healing


Written by David N. Elkins

Reviewed by: Kimberly Wang, New York University

Given modern day demands for scientifically informed healthcare, The Human Elements of Psychotherapy is unique in its call for the rebirth of psychotherapy as a nonmedical procedure. David N. Elkins, Ph.D., experienced clinician and professor, cautions that a medical approach, which has long been accepted as the dominant paradigm in psychotherapy, is not the appropriate model when it comes to psychological healing. Elkins asserts that, despite the modern day instinct to attribute psychological improvements to impersonal techniques, it is ultimately the human elements of the psychotherapeutic experience that determine treatment efficacy.

An introduction that familiarizes readers with relevant historical information is followed by five chapters that discuss the findings of recent studies in attachment theory, social relationships, neuroscience, and evolutionary theory. While all chapters contribute equally, Chapter 3 is especially impressive in its use of neuroscience, a discipline often associated with medicine, to show that the human brain is evolved to give and receive emotional healing through social means. The neurobiological evidence offered encompasses, but is not limited to, ongoing research on the roles of mirror neurons and oxytocin on the experiences of empathy and compassion. However, it is not so much the radical nature of these findings that is impressive but rather the mindfulness with which Elkins discusses their value. This level of care is demonstrated most memorably by a disclaimer that his descriptions of neurobiological concepts are intentionally “conservative” in order to account for the oversimplification of complex findings that are too often “inappropriately [manipulated to] support a pet theory or ideology” (pg. 54). This statement (among many others) lends a refreshing realism to Elkins’ argument that is often missing from other similar publications.

Although the idea that psychotherapy heals through “social means” is not new, The Human Elements of Psychotherapy is surprisingly thorough for a text of its size. While most recently published literature in mental healthcare has demonstrated an increased sensitivity to the importance of the human elements of psychotherapy, this book is distinguished in its acknowledgement of the difficulties associated with a paradigm shift, its suggestions for easing the transition, and the amount of care with which it explores these concerns. All things considered, The Human Elements of Psychotherapy is well-executed, concise, and suitable for both professionals and nonprofessionals alike.

The Human Elements of PsychotherapyElkins, D. (2016). The Human Elements of Psychotherapy: A Nonmedical Model of Emotional Healing. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 155 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4338-2066-3. Hardcover. 155 pages. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Keywords: psychotherapy, social aspects, attachment theory, nonmedical approach