Research Topic

Dynamic Systems Theory and Embodiment in Psychotherapy Research. A New Look at Process and Outcome

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We view the communicational process of psychotherapy enacted as a field dynamic phenomenon. On the one hand, psychotherapy process is characterized by a multitude of elements that belong to different phenomenological domains (e.g., behavior, affects, thoughts, speech acts, neurobiological patterns) and ...

We view the communicational process of psychotherapy enacted as a field dynamic phenomenon. On the one hand, psychotherapy process is characterized by a multitude of elements that belong to different phenomenological domains (e.g., behavior, affects, thoughts, speech acts, neurobiological patterns) and interact with each other and the environment. What works is the interaction between elements – namely, their being part of a whole – rather than the elements themselves. Consequently, no element is considered to possess invariant clinical meaning; rather, its impact on the whole therapeutic process is mediated by the field, understood as the set of ever-changing, co-occurring elements regulating/enslaving the system's behaviour. On the other hand, psychotherapy unfolds irreversibly through time. Everything happening within the communication between client and therapist (and within their minds) occurs after and thanks to what has happened before, and paves the way for what will follow. In this sense, psychotherapy is inherently dynamic: what happens in psychotherapy depends on time.
Although these observations are familiar to clinicians, they have been long neglected by researchers who have endorsed reductionist approaches. This is true because alternative approaches entail epistemological and methodological difficulties. Viewing psychotherapy in terms of field dynamics raises the epistemological issue of downward causality, i.e. the problem of modeling the pars-toto relation yet avoiding the conceptual error of reifying the super-ordered level of explanation. Moreover, the temporal dependency of psychotherapy process makes most traditional strategies of data analysis unsuitable, due to the fact that their validity is grounded in the assumption of independency of observations.
Dynamic Systems Theory (DST) can offer a solution to this impasse. DST has developed in various fields (e.g., physics, biology, as well as perception and cognition), adopting a holistic and temporal approach – that has begun to be applied to psychotherapy research. Some clinical researchers have also started to introduce into the field of psychotherapy research ideas elaborated by theoretical approaches like Embodied Cognition and Enactivism, triggering a rethinking of the clinical exchange by recognizing the embodied nature of psychological and communicational phenomena. The integration of these two paradigms (DST and Embodiment) opens up a promising scenario in the field of psychotherapy research, developing new (profoundly transdisciplinary) theoretical concepts, methodologies, and standards of knowledge. The notion of field dynamics enables us to account for the role played by the communicational context in the regulation of intra-psychological processes, while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls of an ontologization of the hierarchy of systemic organization. Moreover, the new embodied-systemic approach implements methodological strategies that can transcend the conventional opposition between idiographic and nomothetic sciences.
The current Research Topic aims at contributing to the development of this promising scenario in psychotherapy research. We encourage theoretical, methodological and empirical papers that can help highlight the heuristic power of this approach to psychotherapy, and that endorse the embodied and field dynamic nature of clinical phenomena.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be in line with the scope of the specialty and field to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Manuscripts discovered during any stage of peer review to be outside of the scope may be transferred to a suitable section or field, or withdrawn from review.

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