Psychopathology: Theory and Practice
Embodied empathy, mirror neurons and unbearable states of mind
Dr Jean Knox suggests that mirror neuron research offers valuable scientific insights into the mind-body dichotomy. She proposes that it challenges the model that privileges mind and thought over bodily enactment as the essence of what makes us human. She suggests that intersubjectivity is increasingly recognized as the embodied relational matrix out of which each individual emerges. The mirror neuron mechanism automatically prompts the observer to resonate with the emotional state of another individual, with the observer copying the motor, autonomic and somatic responses. Dr Knox sees this is the basis for both empathy and emotional contagion, ‘concordant countertransference’ (Racker) and introjection. The therapist often has to relate to states of mind activated by mirror neurons that are unbearable. This may lead the therapist to retreat from embodied inter-subjectivity into defensive positions such as intellectually-based, theoretical stances to the detriment of the therapy, while an understanding of the mirror-neuron mechanism may help therapists to tolerate embodied emotional discomfort.