The mind-body connection

By Dr. Laura Allison 

Image credit: Salt Flat by Farsai C. CC0 Public Domain via Unsplash.

A mind without a body is impossible, at least as technology stands at the moment, and a body without a mind cannot survive except by artificial means.

The mind of the human being, arises out of a developmental process (read this freely available chapter) (Yakeley, Johnston, Adshead, Allison, 2016) from a relationship with a primary caregiver or caregivers - a gradual process of learning and consolidation around what is 'real' and what is 'imaginary'; (and there is room for much interaction between these two categories – Klein, 1958), what is necessary to maintain psychological homeostasis (a young infant is, like all of us, trying to avoid the pain of hunger and will call out for a feed by crying, for example) and bit-by-bit, how to contribute to making a relationship with another human being.

The point is that, for each of us, we learn about relationships in the context of our developmental environment and vice versa. For the majority of people, at least for the most part, the developmental environment will have been 'good enough' (Winnicott, 1950) to allow us to become socially adapted and functioning adults with a rich and varied emotional life. However, for some people, a deficit in or relative lack of psychosocial and emotional functioning is the outcome of a not-good-enough developmental environment that may have encompassed varying degrees of neglect and abuse which, again, could be physical and/or psychological. In this context also, the physical and psychological cannot be as easily separated as we as professionals would like for classification purposes and it is not possible, nor is it helpful, to speculate which is more or less damaging for the affected individuals.

Early experiences influence how the patient (and we are all patients at some time or another) will interact with their clinician and, similarly, as healthcare professionals, our early experiences will influence how we interact with our patients and our work (Bowlby, 2005). 


Jessica Yakeley, James Johnston, Gwen Adshead and Laura Allison (Eds.). Oxford Specialist Handbooks in Psychiatry - Medical Psychotherapy. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2016. pp. 284-292

Melanie Klein, 1959, 'Our Adult World and its Roots in Infancy'. In: Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963. London: Vintage books; 1997. pp. 247-263

Donald W. Winnicott, 1950, 'Aggression in Relation to Emotional Development'. In: Through Paediatrics to Psychoanalysis: collected papers. London: Karnac; 1984. pp. 204-218

John Bowlby, A Secure Base.  London and New York: Routledge Classics; 2005. Ch. 8, pp. 155-177

Dr. Laura Allison is a psychiatrist and medical psychotherapist with a qualification in Adult Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy from the Tavistock Clinic and an MSc in Psychiatric Research Methods from University College London. She was the assistant editor for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, the journal of the Association for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in the NHS, for 3 years until the end of 2015

Dr. Allison is also co-editor of The Oxford Specialist Handbook of Medical Psychotherapy available in print and online, which was also Highly Commended in the Psychiatry category of the British Medical Association Book Awards 2017.

For other articles, visit our Article Archive.