Holistic SOR Model, Page 2


The Classic SOR Model

We began this discussion on our Homepage, here.***


Let us now continue (or begin) from the simple SOR model, and build up a statement of our more refined thinking.

At its simplest, the SOR model looks like this:

S stands for a Stimulus, which is perceived through one or more of the human senses.  A stimulus could be perceived as a good thing – (like getting a kiss from your nearest and dearest!) – or a bad thing – (like losing your wallet containing a lot of money)!

O stands for Organism; in our case ‘a human person’.  (The person, in CBT/REBT, is just a mind. But we have added back the body, making it a whole ‘organism’ [body-brain-mind-environment complexity].)

R stands for Response. As you can imagine, a person (Organism) losing their wallet (Stimulus) is highly likely to react (or Respond) with negative feelings, and searching behaviour.

On the other hand, a person (Organism) who is kissed on the cheek by a person they love (Stimulus) is likely to respond with positive feelings, and happy verbal or nonverbal behaviour.

However, the precise Response (of the person/organism) will depend upon the precise state of their body-brain-mind, as shown in row ‘O’, below, in which we use the example of a person who has very little money who then receives a big bill:

Table 1: The Holistic SOR Model (Created by Dr Jim Byrne, with inputs from Renata Taylor-Byrne)

This model is very different from the classic CBT/REBT model, which ignores the role of the body in the laying down of emotions, and the production of emotional responses (based on body-mind-based habits).  And the “family history” component, above, includes the early childhood formation of secure or insecure attachment styles[10] (with mother and father), and the formation of personality adaptations[11] to both parents.)

The CBT model tends to focus almost exclusively on the thought-patterns of the emotionally disturbed individual (Sarah Edelman, 2006[12]); while the psychoanalytic model tended (for decades) to focus on the mind, plus the sexual functions of the body, but not the other factors which affect the body’s state.  It is true that the psychoanalytic model has been expanded to include Attachment Theory, in recent years – having resisted John Bowlby’s insights[13] for decades.[14]

Neither of those common therapy models – the CBT or the psychodynamic approaches – takes into account all the factors listed in row ‘O’ above.

In Table 1 above, the Stimulus is (normally) an event in the person’s environment: (although it could also be a memory in the person’s brain-mind; or an anticipation in the person’s body-brain-mind).

Adding back the body

Somewhere around 2009, Jim Byrne began to add back the body to the ABC model of REBT/CBT, and to try to integrate the result with the It-Ego-Superego model of psychoanalysis.[15] (See, in particular, A Major Critique of REBT)

The body and mind had been pulled apart centuries ago, by the advocates of ‘dualism’.

Dualism is the approach to philosophy which (mentally) severs the body from the mind, and treats them as separate entities.  This philosophy has been around since ancient Greece; though it was given a big boost by the Meditations of Rene Descartes, in the period 1641-1644. However, as argued by Maurice Merleau-Ponty – (1962/2002, in the endnotes) – for Descartes, the body and mind were still connected (via the pineal gland) – while the followers of Descartes pulled the body and mind totally apart (as is evident in mainstream modern medicine; and in cognitive psychology!)

There is a good deal of evidence today, mainly from neuro-scientific studies, and developmental psychology, that the body-brain-mind is an integrated system, which is always connected to a social environment, from the moment of birth of each baby. (You will never find an individual baby anywhere; they always appear as part of a dyad – involving a symbiotic relationship with a mother or main carer.  The physical baby and the cultural mother interact, and out of those interactions comes the beginnings of the mind of the baby, socially shaped; its attachment style to the mother; and its personality adaptations to the mother [and later the father, siblings, and others]). (See: Damasio, 1994[16]; LeDoux, 1996[17]; Hofstadter, 2007[18]; Siegel, 2015[19]; Schore [in Rass, 2018][20]; and others[21].)

We are ‘emotional bodies’ long before we learn to “think”…

Each of us humans begins life as a body-brain, with a capacity to be aware; to learn from our social environment (which means mother, mainly, for the first two or three years, and sometimes longer).

But our learning is built upon innate capacities, primary among them being a capacity to appraise each stimulus (through our senses) as either good or bad (without the use of words!).

In ancient Greece it was not known that the brain was the basis of this capacity to be aware; to pay attention; and to appraise incoming stimuli.  Indeed, even in the late eighteenth century, Immanuel Kant, in writing his Critique of Pure Reason, failed to spot the importance of the brain in the emergence of a social mind.  At that time, our capacities to be aware, to form impressions of external empirical realities, was referred to by philosophers as “having a priori concepts”.  But it was not until the twentieth century that Merleau-Ponty, a French philosopher, critiqued Kant’s perspective by maintaining that our embodiment (or having a sensing body) is integral to the capacity to be aware; to form impressions; to remember them; and to build upon them, mentally.  Or in his own words: “…Kant’s conclusion … was that I am a consciousness which embraces and constitutes the world, and this reflection caused him to overlook the phenomenon of the body and that of the (perceived) thing”[22]. (Although to be fair, Kant did have the concept of the “Noumenon”, or “thing-in-itself” as opposed to how it is perceived by an observer.

Merleau-Ponty elsewhere mentions that, as we go about our daily lives, we do not notice the role our body-based senses play in ‘constructing’ for us the appearance of a particular external reality (which is culturally shaped) and the illusion that ‘I am a particular kind of consciousness’ floating through this external reality.

To overcome these kinds of difficulties – including Descartes’ Cogito, (“I think, therefore I am”) – we (in E-CENT counselling theory) construe ‘ourselves’ as follows:

“I seem to be a body-brain-mind; which has stored years of cumulative, interpretive, social experience; organized in the form of schemas, scripts and stories and images; all of which are emotive, and meaningful for me. I seem to have several different ways of relating to others, and to the world, some of which seem more Parental, some more Adult, and some quite Childlike. My relationships today are affected by my attachment styles to my parents; and the personality adaptations that I formed towards them…”

Since the body is the foundation of this system, it follows that diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation and social stress/relaxation, and personal history, all affect the so-called “mind and emotions.”

(And, we should note in passing, that emotional distress, in the forms of a rising tide of anxiety and depression, has increased dramatically since the late 1970s because Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan oversaw a huge transfer of resources from the poor to the rich – advertised at the time as the “trickle-down effect”, which, perversely, actually “sucks upwards”!  Mental illness is much more common today in the richer, more unequal countries of the world. (Pickett and Wilkinson, 2010)[23]. Or, as expressed by Oliver James, a British psychologist: “…in a developed nation, rates of emotional distress (disturbances such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse) increase in direct proportion to the degree of income inequality…”. (Page xviii; James, 2007[24]).

He goes on to write that: “…America is by some margin the most emotionally distressed of all nations. Selfish Capitalism and Affluenza are not the only reasons for this difference, but they are the major ones. [Of course, some psychiatrists will insist that “genes” are the other culprit, but the results of the Human Genome Project has not been able to find any genes, single or grouped, to account for any emotional problem; and, at best, genes may account for between 1 and 5% of human disturbance: James, 2017, 2018 in endnotes; and James, 2002[25]).


“Feeling and Thinking”

In this model of ours – the E-CENT model of body-brain-mind – the so-called emotions are more fundamental than the so-called processes of ‘thinking’.

While CBT theory posits a separation of cognition

– (conceived of as ‘thinking in language’ [consciously or non-consciously])

– and emotion

– (conceived of as the negative source of unhelpful behaviour),

Daniel Siegel (2015) writes that “…the common distinction between cognition and emotion is artificial and potentially harmful to our understanding of mental processes”. (Page 148; Emphasis added).

That statement by Siegel (2015) echoes a similar statement made by Dr Albert Ellis. Ellis began (in the mid-1950’s) with the thesis that thinking, feeling and action were all interconnected, and in many respects thinking and feeling were essentially the same thing.[26]

Ellis (1958) wrote: “It is also hypothesized that among adult humans raised in a social culture, thinking and emoting are so closely interrelated that they usually accompany each other, act in a cause-and-effect relationship, and in certain (although hardly all) respects are essentially the same thing, so that one’s thinking becomes one’s emotion and emoting becomes one’s thought”. (Page 36).

Of course, Siegel (2015) would not go along with the end of that statement, as he would consider that emotions (or affects) are primary.  And in the work of Allan Schore (2003) this point is made even more strongly, because he begins from Attachment theory, and developmental psychology (which recognize that new born babies are physical-emotional beings, and not cognitive beings; and Schore then proceeds to neuroscience, which explores the different areas of the brain, which account for:

(a) Innate affects/emotions (the deeper limbic structures); and:

(b) Socialized higher cognitive emotions (the right orbitofrontal cortex, where the mother’s “affect regulation efforts” are internalized as self-regulation.

Cognitive psychology has led us astray for a long time, at least since the Second World War, when the Information Processing and the Piagetian approaches to the mind and behaviour dumped the idea of emotion; and only in the 1980’s began to add small afterthoughts about emotion to the backs of their textbooks about attention/perception/memory/language/thinking.  (However, in social psychology, and developmental psychology, the idea of the human individual as a feeling being has been closer to the norm).

A challenge to cognitive psychology

In 1980, the complacent boat of cognitive psychology was seriously rocked by Dr Robert Zajonc (1980)[27], in a paper which began like this:

“Affect (or emotion – JB) is considered by most contemporary theories to be post-cognitive, that is, to occur only after considerable cognitive (or thinking – JB) operations have been accomplished. Yet a number of experimental results on preferences, attitudes, impression formation, and decision making, as well as some clinical phenomena, suggest that affective judgments may be fairly independent of, and precede in time, the sorts of perceptual and cognitive operations commonly assumed to be the basis of these affective judgments. Affective reactions to stimuli are often the very first reactions of the organism, and for lower organisms they are the dominant reactions. Affective reactions can occur without extensive perceptual and cognitive encoding, are made with greater confidence than cognitive judgments, and can be made sooner.”

Unfortunately, we did not discover Zajonc’s 1980 paper until Jim Byrne was (unsuccessfully!) trying to rescue Albert Ellis’s ABC model from a significant critique by Bond and Dryden (1996). In Part Two of his book (A Major Critique of REBT)[28], in Chapters 7 to 14, Jim Byrne sums up his long journey from his early attempts to rescue REBT and its ABC model from their critics (Bond and Dryden, 1996), and shows how the whole theory fell apart in his hands, over a period a several years, as he wrote seven papers of critical reflection.

Firstly, in the period 2001-2003, he accidentally uncovered several flaws in the foundations of this theory of therapy.

Secondly, he wrote a series of papers, exploring some of the weaknesses of REBT – all the time hoping he would be able to salvage a defensible core of the therapy.  But eventually, this led him to the development of a completely new theory of therapy, which rejects virtually all of the major theoretical and practical elements of REBT – apart from those moderate Stoical and moderate Buddhist influences that went into the origin of Dr Albert Ellis’s theory.

Moving beyond the cognitive psychologists and the CBT thesis

In the period 2007-2014 we began the process of extricating ourselves from the perspective on thinking-feeling that was created by Albert Ellis and cognitive psychology.

We realized that we have to face up to the fact that thinking and feeling are not ‘in many ways essentially the same thing’ (as claimed by Ellis, 1962) – although they clearly do interact.  Feelings or affects are innate, and they become socialized (in childhood, and later) by a process of internalized ‘perfinking – or perceiving-feeling-thinking – which is modelled for us by our significant others (especially mother, or our main carer).

Perfinking includes thinking, feeling, perceiving.  And, while thinking and feeling exist as distinctions to the degree that they help to distinguish one phenomenon from another, we must accept that there seems to be no basis for asserting the possibility of thinking without feeling.  And feelings underpin all of our so called higher cognitive functioning. Feeling (or emotion/affect) is what helps us to evaluate every experience we have. (See the case of Elliot, in Damasio, 1994, in the endnotes, below).

The maddening thing about Albert Ellis’s arguments is this.  At one point in his theorizing he will insist that thinking and feeling overlap, and are in some senses essentially the same thing – so that (even though they are interactive) one of them could not possibly cause the other – and next moment, in dealing with a client, he will demand to know what the client ‘told himself’ to make himself upset; and he will insist that it is always and only the client’s belief (B) which upsets him.

In later years, Ellis grudgingly allowed some effect to come from the Stimulus, [expressed as A x B -= C], but he always forced his clients to work on their belief, and not on the stimulus!) Despite these self-contradictions, anybody who is familiar with the work of Albert Ellis will know that, in his public demonstrations, and his book-based case studies, he normally sees emotions as being caused by thoughts.

But in Byrne (2019) we have argued that this is not the case.  The Activating Event triggers a pattern matching process which outputs the historically conditioned Response that a particular client normally outputs in such situations.  There is no need to posit a Belief (B) to account for the Response – especially since we have argued that it is the whole body-brain-mind of the client that responds to the Activating Event; and, for examples, sleep deprivation and childhood trauma could have more to do with a particular outputted Response that any Belief the client can be persuaded to believe that he himself holds!

After the fact, an individual can (very often) work on their emotional response to events and experiences, and change them: but not during those events.  An individual may also learn to anticipate that particular events are likely to happen, and to plan to respond to them in a moderately Stoical or extremely Stoical manner.  But if they have not done that in advance, then they will respond (emotionally) to an incoming stimulus on the basis of their past experiences of responding to similar stimuli.


The evolutionary origins of affective (or emotive) reactions

In the conclusion of his 1980 paper, Robert Zajonc wrote:

“The evolutionary origins of affective (or emotive – JB) reactions, that point to their survival value, their distinctive freedom from attentive control, their speed, the importance of affective (or emotive, or feeling-based – JB) discriminations for the individual, the extreme forms of action that affect (or emotion/feelings – JB) can recruit – all of these suggest something special about affect. People do not get married or divorced, commit murder or suicide, or lay down their lives for freedom upon a detailed cognitive (or thinking – JB) analysis of the pros and cons of their actions”. (Page 172).

Darwin, who was born 87 years before Jean Piaget, had a more realistic understanding of human emotions:

“Darwin’s basic message was that emotion expressions are evolved and (at least at some point in the past) adaptive. For Darwin, emotion expressions not only originated as part of an emotion process that protected the organism or prepared it for action but also had an important communicative function. Darwin saw in this communicative function a further adaptive value: ‘We have also seen that expression in itself, or the language of the emotions, as it has sometimes been called, is certainly of importance for the welfare of mankind’. (Darwin, 1872/1965, page 366[29]).” From Hess and Thibault (2009)[30].

Emotions are based in the body, and are guides to action, throughout the animal kingdom.  The difference for humans is that our innate affects (or basic emotions) become socialized to a high degree by our family and culture of origin (especially by our mothers, in the first two years of life), while non-human animals retain their innate affects as pure, largely unvarying instincts.

William James also understood the importance of the body to the feeling of human emotions. His opponents (Cannon and Bard) muddied the waters with a highly unrealistic experiment involving separating the brain of an experimental animal from its viscera, and ‘demonstrating’ that it was possible to scare the s**t out of that animal, even if it did not have a body; but they overlooked the historically encoded map of the body laid down over time in the brain of that animal!  (See Byrne, 2019, in the endnotes, below).

Cognitive psychology, emerging from the Second World War, was swayed by (non-emotive) Information Processing as their model for the human capacity to engage with its environment.  This model was augmented by the theories of Jean Piaget, from the early 1930’s.  (And listen: How credible do you find it that Cannon and Bard kept experimental animals sufficiently alive to conduct realistic experiments on their functioning, while their brains were surgically separated from their heart, lungs and guts? And: Yuk!)

Piaget had argued that children construct a mental model of the world for themselves, based on their forays into the world.  (For Piaget, the child is some kind of “autonomous organism”. In this sense, he overlooked the hugely important role of the mother in shaping the experiences of the child. This was corrected to some degree by Vygotsky, who promoted an understanding of the role of ‘instruction’ in the child’s learning; but he also overlooked the importance of the emotional bond between mother and child).

Piaget also saw psychological development of the child as a result of biological maturation (which of course is part of what happens, in a facilitative sense, to us as we grow through childhood); and interaction with the environment. But he mostly focused upon the explorations of the child into its physical environment, and he failed to understand the importance of emotional relationships in the family of origin.  The emotional foundations of the individual support and make possible, and colour, the attentive, perceptive, memorial, linguistic and ‘thinking processes’.

Piaget’s understanding of emotion was woefully inadequate, consisting as it did of the idea that an emotion is caused by “sensations emitted by (external) objects”; which fails to explain the connection between bodily sensations, conscious awareness, social modelling of emotions; external regulating of emotions by a soothing mother; and the link between socialized interpretations/ appraisals and the common emotions of anger, anxiety and/or depression.


Zajonc (1980) ends his article with a call for cognitive psychologists to pay far more attention to the subject of emotion (or ‘affective phenomena’).

Twenty years later, he got his wish when Joseph Forgas (2001)[31] edited a book about feeling and thinking in which Zajonc got to write the second chapter, updating his 1980 position. However, from the perspective of counselling and psychotherapy, this book did not amount to a hill of beans, because, in the final chapter, in which Joseph Forgas offers a summary and integration of the preceding fifteen chapters, what it all boiled down to was this:

1. “One of the common themes throughout this book is that the relationship between affect and cognition is complex, context sensitive, and clearly bidirectional.”

2. “Perhaps one of the key messages of this book is that the stage is now set for genuinely interactive and dynamic conceptualizations of the links between affect and social cognition”. (Forgas, 2001, page 400)[32].

But Forgas’s model does not seem to have created any space for an integration of cognitive psychology with developmental psychology and social psychology, which we believe would be a good way to move psychology closer to the amazing developments that have occurred in the “emotional revolution”. (More details will follow, later, below).


Grasping the complexity of the human condition

In 2003, without any awareness of Forgas or Zajonc, we began to construct a new, complex ABC model, which looked like this (and was fully developed by 2009):

Over the years between 2003 and 2009, our complex ABC model was refined and expanded, but the 2003 core model was never invalidated.

It is reproduced in Figure 3.1 below:

Figure 1: One of the main diagrams of the Complex ABC Model, from 2003

This model shows (at box 1, [A1]) that an incoming stimulus (impacting the sense organs of a person) is already ‘socially agreed’ – because the person has been socialized by his/her family of origin to perceive in particular ways.  The person interprets the stimulus (at box 2, [A2]), but this interpretation is driven by their emotive-cognitive processing of the stimulus (as in box 3, [B1, 2, 3]).  But, once we include emotive processing at point B in this model, then the simple ABC model is dead, because the simple ABC model says that it is only a belief (a language-based idea) that mediates between the A and the C!

Later, in Jim Byrne’s paper on the nature of the social individual[33], he visually added back the body to the complex ABC model. This was necessitated by a consideration of the James-Lange and Cannon-Bard theories of human emotion. See Figure 2 below.

However, once he’d added back the body to the complex ABC model, it was obvious that counsellors and therapists would have to wonder which aspects of the client’s life could, potentially, impact their emotional state.  The answer that he came up with involved a long list, including: sleep pattern; diet/nutrition; physical exercise; the durable impact of their family of origin; their current environmental stressors; and many more besides.

Thus the era of the simple ABC model, and the blind belief in the power of beliefs, came crashing to an ignoble end!

Figure 2: Adding back the body to the complex ABC model

We now have to face the fact that when we deal with a client in counselling and therapy, we are dealing with a complex body-brain-mind-environment-whole, and not with a ‘talented screwball’ and his/her ‘irrational beliefs’.

We also have to face up to the fact that thinking and feeling are not ‘in many ways essentially the same thing’ (as claimed by Ellis, 1962).  Feelings are innate, and they become socialized (in childhood, and later) by a process of internalized ‘perfinking – or perceiving-feeling-thinking – which is modelled for us by our significant others (especially mother, or our main carer).

Perfinking includes thinking, feeling, perceiving.  By 2016, we were much clearer about the SOR and ABC models:

The original SOR model of neo-Behaviourism was dumped by Dr Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), and replaced by the simple ABC model, in which the client is always and only upset because of their ‘irrational beliefs’.

And Freud’s ‘ABCs’ were no better, in that he implied that when something happens [let’s call it an ‘A’, or activating event], the client responds with their own phantasy [let’s call it a ‘B’, or belief], which upsets them [at point C – consequence]: though Freud did not use that ‘ABC’ lettering system.

Aaron Tim Beck (despite being a medical doctor, and theoretically aware of the importance of the human body) also adopted this simple ABC model. (Beck, 1976[34]).

So one of the main contributions of E-CENT counselling has been ‘adding back the body’ to the client; and accepting that the client’s body-mind-environment-whole is implicated in all of their emotional and behavioural states.  In the process we developed a more holistic version of the Stimulus-Organism-Response model.

(See Byrne, 2009, A Major Critique of REBT, in the endnotes).


The ABC model of REBT – which asserts that only a belief (B) intervenes between an incoming stimulus (through the eyes, ears, nose, mouth or skin) and an outgoing emotional response – is too simple to be sustainable in the context of what we know today about how the human brain-mind-environment interact to create a unique, socialized-individual. (In interpersonal neurobiology it is said that a mind is created by the interaction of a [baby] body and a socializing mother [or significant other].  And the limbic system [or emotional centre of the brain-mind] is at the core of a system which integrates the neocortex (or outer layer of the brain), the body, and the social environment: (Siegel, 2015).


The APET model from the Human Givens School – (See Griffin and Tyrrell, 2004)[35] – is a step up from the ABC model. This model states that when an Activating Event (A) is apprehended by a human being, there follows a quick, automatic search for a pattern (from the past) which matches this stimulus.  Hence:

A = Activating event;

P = Pattern matching process;

E = Emotional response; and:

T = Thinking (which follows more slowly).

The main problem with this model is that it would lead counsellors and therapists to expect an invariable response to a fixed stimulus; or at least a limited range of responses to choose from, all determined by previous experience and nothing else.

However, in E-CENT counselling, we use a modified and updated, holistic S-O-R model – which stands for Stimulus – Organism – Response (which was discussed above).  And we see the whole organism (body-brain-mind) participating in the selecting and outputting of a response.

Why do we think the ‘whole organism’ is a preferable variable to ‘pattern matching’?  Because the outputted response depends on much more than a ‘filed pattern’ from the past.  It depends at least to some [variable] degree, for examples, upon:

# 1a. What you ate (or did not eat) for your breakfast (and for our other meals); and how healthy your diet is overall;

# 1b. The overall balance between friendly and unfriendly bacteria in your guts (your microbiota);

# 1c. Whether or not you take vitamin and mineral supplements;

# 2. Whether you drink enough water throughout the day; and whether or not you drink too much alcohol, or sugary drinks; or caffeinated drinks;

# 3. How well you slept last night (and on previous nights); and how relaxed your body tends to be throughout the day;

# 4. Whether you do enough physical exercise on a daily basis; whether or not you get enough sunlight for vitamin D production; and whether or not you lead a sedentary lifestyle;

# 5. How secure you feel in your life; your loves; relationships; work; career; income; and so on;

# 6. The peaceful or non-peaceful nature of your home environment;

# 7. Your family of origin, and the attachment style you formed there; and also your personality adaptations to your parents and other key individuals;

# 8. The balance between your moral side and your immoral side; how principled or opportunistic you tend to be in your relationships; and:

# 9. Your philosophy of life; values; attitudes; beliefs.

These and many other factors are relevant to how a particular individual can and will respond to a particular incoming stimulus (or experience).  But only # 9 is considered relevant by Albert Ellis and his system of REBT; (and by Aaron Tim Beck and his followers, in Cognitive Therapy; and in general CBT!).  And, as far as we can tell, only the patterns from the past are taken into account by the Human Givens School (which excludes the present state of the client’s body-brain-mind).

It seems most likely that Ellis’s focus on item # 9 is a result of being overly influenced by the Stoic perspective, which claims that humans are by nature ‘reasoning’ beings, and it is our nature to reason. (Page 33, Irvine 2009)[36]. Therefore, it could be inferred (by Albert Ellis) that everybody should be able to reason their way out of ever becoming upset about anything.

However, Epictetus was not so sure of this Greek belief, and he tended to promote the idea that Stoicism should substitute the goal of tranquillity for the goal of being a perfectly reasoning being.   And tranquillity – he believed – followed from living a ‘virtuous life’ (meaning self-centred-but-wise living [and that did involve some guidance on eating and drinking!]). But he also famously claimed that people are not upset by what happens to them, which is also what Ellis believes!  So, if people are not upset by what happens to them, how are they upset?  By their attitudes, says Epictetus.  By their beliefs, says Albert Ellis.

However, we have already seen that emotions are based in the body, and are modified by socialization; that humans are creatures of habit-based emotional-evaluations in their creation of meaning.

It turns out that Epictetus was wrong, and has been shown to be wrong by at least one expert on Stoic philosophy: Professor William Irvine, 2009).35 above.


For the reasons explored above, (which preceded our reading of Siegel, 201519, above), we prefer to think of human beings as beings that “perceive-feel-think, all in one grasp of the mind”. (Byrne, 2009)[37].  For shorthand, we sometimes use the word “perfinking”, to describe this perceiving-feeling-thinking. (Glasersfeld, 1989)[38]. Or we can use the more congenial term, used by Peter Fonagy (2001)[39], which is “mentalizing”.  By this term, Fonagy (initially) means the child’s ability to create mental representations of the mental states of its attachment figures (mother, father, etc.)  Perfinking is a wider concept; involving the (fundamentally physical-emotional) capacity to perceive, interpret, represent, and use memory to make sense of any and all incoming stimuli; and to manipulate recollections and anticipations.

In the world of Fonagy, Schore and others, this is called “full mentalization”.  According to Daniel Hill (2015): “Mentalization theorists emphasize that full mentalization involves the thinking through of a feeling in the midst of live affect. From the point of view of interpersonal neurobiology, mentalizing is not simply a left-brain operation. Rather, the left brain is fed regulated primary affect that has been processed in the right brain. The left brain then makes further sense of it using reflective verbal processes. Effective mentalization requires optimal hemispheric integration supporting ‘thinking and feeling about thinking and feeling…” (Hill, 2015; pages 108-109).

So, if you find the concept of ‘perfinking’ (perceiving-feeling-thinking’) to be a ‘creation too far’, you could always speak of ‘mentalizing’ as being all those functions of human mental activity which we normally bracket under the headings of perceiving, feeling and/or thinking; paying attention; storing and retrieving information from memory; using meaningful-language; and so on.  Or, if you like: an integration of cognition and emotion, and all the functions of those categories.


The Emotional Revolution

While the world of cognitive psychology was trying to get itself up to date about ‘the role of affect in social cognition’ (in the period 1980-2001, an ‘emotion revolution’ had overtaken their agenda.  In 1994, Dr Allan Schore published a book about the neurobiology of early childhood emotional development[40].

Allan Schore had spent the previous decade collecting, sifting and digesting the publications of a diverse range of academic disciplines which had been focusing more than in the past on the scientific study of emotion. One of those fields was developmental neuroscience, which had concluded that the maturation of the brain of each infant is influenced by the social environment, and is dependent on experience.  As Oliver James has argued, genes are responsible for the form and location of brain modules, but not how they are wired up or how well they function.  That, it seems, is all down to the kind of developmental relationship that is formed between the infant and the main carer (normally mother).

From the field of developmental psychological research, Schore learned that the infant’s expanding socio-affective functions are “critically influenced by the affect-transacting experiences it has with the primary caregiver”.

And developmental psychoanalytic research suggested that the mother plays an important role in shaping the infant’s “affect regulatory functions”, which also permanently shape the emerging self’s ability to self-organize (or to compile itself into a self).

Allan Schore’s (1994/2003) book contained a lot of relevant, up-to-date developmental neurobiological findings and insights, which are helpful for psychotherapists. What he achieved was an impressive integration of: neurobiology, behavioural neurology, behavioural biology, socio-biology, social psychology, developmental psychology, developmental psychoanalysis, and infant psychiatry. And much more besides, including developments in Attachment theory.

In the Preface to his 1994 book – reproduced as Chapter 3 of Rass (2018)[41] – Allan Schore presents this insight:

“Studies of the infant brain demonstrate that its development occurs in stages over critical periods, and that its maturation is influenced by the environment and is experience-dependent. Concurrent developmental psychological research dramatically emphasizes that the infant’s emerging socioaffective functions are fundamentally influenced by the dyadic transactions the child has with the primary caregiver. In these fast acting, ‘hidden’ communications, the mother senses and modulates the nonverbal and affective expressions of her infant’s psychobiological states. In other words, the experiences that fine-tune brain circuits in critical periods of infancy are embedded in socioemotional interchanges between an adult brain and a developing brain.  In line with these findings, developmental studies are revitalizing contemporary psychoanalysis. This observational data strongly suggests that the mother’s regulatory functions not only modulate the infant’s internal state, but also indelibly and permanently shape the emerging self’s capacity for self-organization. …” (Rass, 2018; pages 31-32).

The most significant achievements of Allan Schore’s work was to establish that:

1. Emotion is primary in early human development;

2. That a (brain-based) biopsychosocial inability to control emotions (or to ‘regulate affects’) is at the heart of most problems identified as ‘mental illness’ or psychopathology; And:

3. That, because of the importance of the attachment bond, and the early internalization of the ability to regulate affects, all forms of psychotherapy need to have a strong commitment to affective (or right-brained, emotive) communication as well as rational/cognitive (left-brained) communication.

However, like so many others, Schore failed to notice the significance of diet, exercise, sleep, and relaxation, across the lifespan, as potential sources of psycho-social malfunctioning (which is not an illness, and not a pathology!) But nobody can stretch their net that far, when they are diving so deep! Dr Schore has made a great contribution to the field of psychotherapy, and helped to get us out of the mire created by the followers of Piaget, Watson/Skinner and Epictetus.  But we doubt he has fully achieved his aim of producing a radically improved approach to psychotherapy.  Of course, he has helped to move us beyond the narrow focus of the cognitive content of the exchanges between therapist and client; but it is less clear how to “do” right-brain to right-brain therapy.

Allan Schore’s writings are so dense and technical that they need to be pre-digested for the average reader, which is why Eva Rass edited and published The Allan Schore Reader: Setting the course of development.

However, the best summary of Schore’s work that we have seen, which outlines how it applies to psychotherapy sessions with clients, is the book entitled Affect Regulation Theory: A clinical model, by Daniel Hill (2015)[42].

What we learned from Daniel Hill’s book included the following points:

– Far from emotion following from cognition (or feeling from thought), the emotional centres of the brain (the limbic system) is at the core of human development from the beginning of life.

– In Hill’s rendition of Schore’s insights: The limbic system (which is wordless) integrates three strands of human existence:

(a) The body: Affective informational flows from the physical senses.

(b) Social input: Social-emotional information (initially mainly from mother).  And:

(c) Upper brain (or neocortex): Higher order mentation, which is limited in the early weeks of life, but gradually increases as with age and experience.

– The concept of mentalizing is described like this: The mother reads the baby’s mind and reflects it back to the baby. The baby therefore finds his or her own mind/identity in mother’s face.

– Later, mother talks to baby about his/her feelings and intentions (as mother experiences/interprets them) and as a result, baby learns to ‘talk to himself’ using mother’s linguistic concepts.

– When our baby becomes a considerably developed child, and his/her ‘languaging’ becomes automatic and non-conscious, he/she thinks/feels/acts-out the relational story the he/she learned in mother’s arms, and later in her arms-length care.

– The Affect Regulation therapist operates on a right-brain to right-brain basis with their client, trying to read the client’s affective state, and to either calm them down from hyper-arousal (such as anger and anxiety) or to crank them up from hypo-arousal (such as depression, shame, inappropriate guilt, etc.)  But, secondarily, to pay attention to the left-brain to left-brain channel, of psycho-education, reflective observations, coaching inputs, etc.


We were unaware of the work of Dr Schore, in 1994, when his first book came out.  However, in the same year, Antonio Damasio published his ground-breaking neuroscientific work, in his book – Descartes Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain – which we did discover (around 2001), and we were strongly influenced by his case study of Elliot, who could (cognitively) think his way around all kinds of logical considerations, but who could not make a decision, because the damage to the emotional centres of his brain meant he could not evaluate anything; showing that our so-called cognitive judgements need an emotive underpinning.  Or as Damasio expressed it, emotions and feelings are essential to reasoning and decision-making. That one insight was like a cannonball which holed the ships of REBT and CBT below the waterline.  They sank (for us) without trace!


The limitations of the Emotion Revolution

Allan Schore was both a researcher and a ‘clinician’, or practicing psychoanalyst. He helped to incorporate Attachment theory and neuroscience into psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy.  But he did not spot the importance of the body in the here and now.  He was aware of the work of Bessel van der Kolk (2015)[43], but he failed to incorporate anything about ‘interoceptive processing’ – like Van der Kolk’s emphasis on breath-work, or yoga or Tai Chi – or any other non-talk-therapy process.

We are probably the only system of counselling, coaching and psychotherapy which takes the body fully into account.  (Van der Kolk fails to notice the importance of diet and sleep!)

If you want an insight into the comprehensive nature of our (E-CENT) approach to counselling and therapy, please take a look at this page: https://abc-counselling.org/


[1] Joines, V. and Stewart, I. (2002) Personality Adaptations: A new guide to human understanding in psychotherapy and counselling.  Nottingham and Chapel Hill: Lifespace Publishing.

[2] Byrne, J.W. (2019) A Major Critique of REBT: Revealing the many errors in the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

[3] Taylor-Byrne, R.E. and Byrne, J.W. (2017) How to control your anger, anxiety and depression, using nutrition and physical activity.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications. Available on line, here: https://abc-bookstore.com/diet-exercise-mental-health/

[4] Taylor-Byrne, R.E. (2019) Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap the Rewards: Better health, happiness and resilience.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications. Available online, here: https://abc-bookstore.com/sleep-better-feel-better/

[5] Taylor-Byrne, R.E. (2020) Relax Your Way to a Better Life: Using Dr Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation technique for physical and mental health. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

[6] Byrne, J.W. (2018) How to Write a New Life for Yourself: Narrative therapy and the writing solution. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.  Available online, here: https://abc-bookstore.com/writing-therapy-exercises/

[7] Byrne, J. (2020, in press) Transforming Traumatic Dragons: How to recover from a history of trauma – using a whole body-brain-mind approach. Hebden Bridge: E-CENT Institute Publications.  Available online: https://abc-bookstore.com/how-to-resolve-childhood-developmental-trauma/ – And:

Byrne, J.W. (2020, in press) Recovery from Childhood Trauma: How I healed my heart and mind – and how you can heal yourself. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications. Available online: https://abc-bookstore.com/how-to-recover-from-childhood-trauma-a-case-study-and-strategies/

Byrne, J.W. (2017) Metal Dog – Long Road Home: A mythical journey through the eye of a needle. The fictionalised memoir of an improbable being. E-CENT Institute Publications. Available online: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Metal-Dog-Long-mythical-journey/dp/1542899737

[8] Byrne, J.W. (2020) The Bamboo Paradox: The limits of human flexibility in a cruel world – and how to protect, defend and strengthen yourself. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications. Available online: https://abc-bookstore.com/the-bamboo-paradox-a-book-of-wisdom-for-success/

[9] Woodworth, R.S. (1929) Psychology, Second edition. New York: H. Holt and Company. Probably out of print as a paperback.  (Available online in eBook form: http://www.worldcat.org/ title/ psychology/oclc/567979161)

[10] Wallin (2007), below.

[11] Joines and Stewart (2002), above.

[12] Edelman, S. (2006) Change Your Thinking: Overcome stress, combat anxiety and improve your life with CBT. London: Vermilion. (The blurb on the back cover of this CBT text actually conflates the concepts of ‘emotions’ and ‘thoughts’, as if they were one and the same [as was originally asserted by Albert Ellis, 1962).

See: Ellis, A. (1962) Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. New York: Citadel/Carol Publishing.

[13] Bowlby, J. (1951). Maternal care and mental health. World Health Organization Monograph (Serial No. 2). And:

Bowlby, J. (1958), The nature of the child’s tie to his mother. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, XXXIX, 1-23. And:

Bowlby, J. (1959). Separation anxiety. International Journal of Psycho-Analysts, XLI, 1-25. And:

Bowlby, J. (1960). Grief and mourning in infancy and early childhood. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, VX, 3-39.

[14] Bretherton, I. (1992) The Origins of Attachment Theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology 28: 759. And:

Fonagy, P. (2001) Attachment Theory and Psychoanalysis. New York: Other Press. And:

Schore, A.N. (1994/2003) Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. The Neurobiology of Emotional Development. London: Routledge.  

Schore, A.N. (2003a) Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Schore, A.N.  (2003b) Affect Regulation and Repair of the Self. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Schore, A.N. (2012) The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company. And:

Wallin, D. (2007) Attachment in Psychotherapy.  New York: The Guildford Press.

[15] Byrne, J. (2009a) Rethinking the psychological models underpinning Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT).  E-CENT Paper No.1(a).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT.  And:

Byrne, J. (2009b) The ‘Individual’ and his/her Social Relationships – The E-CENT Perspective.  E-CENT Paper No.9.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT.

[16] Damasio, A. R. (1994). Descartes’ Error: Emotion, reason and the human brain. London, Picador.

[17] LeDoux, J. (1996). The Emotional Brain: the mysterious underpinnings of emotional life, New York.

[18] Hofstadter, D. (2007) I am a Strange Loop.  New York: Basic Books.

[19] Siegel, D.J. (2015) The Developing Mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are.  London: The Guilford Press. And:

[20] Rass, E. (ed) (2018) The Allan Schore Reader: Setting the course of development.  Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

[21] The authors who have influenced me (Jim Byrne) most are too numerous to mention here, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the crucial contributions of Alice Miller, Antonio Damasio, Eric Berne, Joseph LeDoux, Nicholas Humphrey, Douglas Hofstadter, John Bowlby, Lavinia Gomez, Oliver James, Bessel van der Kolk, and David Wallin.

[22] Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962/2002). Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge.

[23] Pickett, K.E. and Wilkinson, R.G. (2010). ‘Inequality: An unacknowledged source of mental illness and distress’. British Journal of Psychiatry, 2010; 197; Pages 426-428.

[24] James, O. (2007) Affluenza: How to be successful and stay sane. London: Vermillion.

[25] James, O. (2002) They F*** You Up: How to survive family life. London: Bloomsbury.

[26] Ellis, A. (1958). Rational Psychotherapy, Journal of General Psychology, 59, 35-49. And:

Ellis A. (1962). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, New York, Carol Publishing.

[27] Zajonc, R. B. (1980). Feeling and thinking: Preferences need no inferences. American Psychologist, 35(2), 151–175.

[28] Byrne, J.W. (2019) A Major Critique of REBT: Revealing the many errors in the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

[29] Darwin, C. (1872/1965) The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[30] Hess, U. and Thibault, P. (2009) ‘Darwin and Emotion Expression’. February–March 2009. American Psychologist, Vol.64, No. 2, Pages 120 –128. DOI: 10.1037/a0013386

[31] Forgas, J.P. (2001) Feeling and Thinking: The role of affect in social cognition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

[32] Forgas, J.P. (2001) Feeling and Thinking: The role of affect in social cognition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

[33] Byrne, J. (2009c) The “Individual” and his/her Social Relationships – The E-CENT Perspective.  E-CENT Paper No.9.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Counselling.  Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

[34] Beck, A.T. (1976/1989) Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders. London: Penguin Books.

[35] Griffin, J. and Tyrrell, I. (2004) Human Givens: A new approach to emotional health and clear thinking. Chalvington, East Sussex: HG Publishing.

[36] Irvine, W. (2009) A Guide to the Good Life: The ancient art of stoic joy.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[37] Byrne, J.W. (2009c) The ‘Individual’ and his/her Social Relationships – The Emotive-Cognitive Perspective. E-CENT Paper No.9c. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT. (Re-issued in February 2017; and updated in March 2019).

[38] Glasersfeld, E. von (1989) Learning as a constructive activity. In Murphy, P. and Moon, B. (eds) Developments in Learning and Assessment.  London:Hodder and Stoughton.

[39] Fonagy, P. (2001) Attachment Theory and Psychoanalysis. New York: Other Press.

[40] Schore, A.N. (1994/2003) Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. The Neurobiology of Emotional Development. London: Routledge.  

[41] Rass, E. (ed) (2018) The Allan Schore Reader: Setting the course of development.  Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

[42] Hill, D. (2015) Affect Regulation Theory: A clinical model.  London: W.W. Norton and Company.

[43] Van der Kolk, B. (2015) The body Keeps the Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. London: Penguin Books.

Bessel van der Kolk has been involved in trauma research and treatment since the 1970s; and he has written about the involvement of the body in trauma since at least the early 1980s. See, for examples his 1984 book; and his 1985 article in the journal, Biological Psychiatry), which follow:

Van der Kolk, B. A., (ed.) (1984) Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Psychological and Biological Sequelae. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Bessel van der Kolk, Mark Greenberg, Helene Boyd, John Krystal, (1985) Inescapable shock, neurotransmitters, and addiction to trauma: Toward a psychobiology of post-traumatic stress. Biological Psychiatry, Vol.20, Issue 3, 1985, Pages 314-325, ISSN 0006-3223, https://doi.org/10.1016/0006-3223(85)90061-7.


Abstract: Chronic post-traumatic stress has been described as a “physioneurosis” (Kardiner 1941), that is, a mental disorder with both psychological and physiological components.


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