Professional Mentalization

Professional Mentalization in Psychotherapy and Art Psychotherapy

I suggest a term "professional mentalization" (Sibbett, 2015) - a professional development of the concept of mentalisation as proposed by Fonagy et al (Fonagy, Gergely, Jurist & Target, 2002). Fonagy has defined mentalization as an imaginative process by which we interpret and can understand other people's mental states, feelings, thoughts etc. (Fonagy & Allison, 2012). Fonagy has researched mentalization and attachment theory and applications in therapy. 

Mentalization has been described as "The imaginative activity of making sense of the actions of oneself and others on the basis of intentional mental states such as desires feelings and beliefs" (Anna Freud Centre)

I suggest that 'professional mentalization' is a vital capacity in psychotherapists - the imaginative capacity to make sense of our practice and others' practice. Thinking about our rationale for our practice. Being professionally aware about our professional thinking and feeling and figuring out the reasons for these. The concept of 'deliberate practice' (Ericsson, Krampe & Tesch-Römer, 1993) has been applied in psychotherapy (Rousmaniere, 2017). A capacity for professional mentalization is a necessary skill for deliberate practice in psychotherapy and in supervision. This relates to being curious to what's going on in our professional self; a kind of empathy for oneself. The capacity for professional mentalization is necessary for self-awareness. A further capacity is retaining a capacity for professional mentalization whilst also experiencing strong feelings. Defensiveness blocks or compromises mentalization and thus also professional mentalization. Openness aids professional mentalization. This links to professional reflexivity and curiosity about our professional self, our motivations, our thinking and feeling states. This can be done in professional groups. It is important that we adopt a professional mentalizing stance (Allen, 2013)


References - Professional Mentalization

Allen, J.G. (2013) Restoring Mentalizing in Attachment Relationships: Treating Trauma With Plain Old Therapy. Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Allen, J.G. (2013) Mentalizing in the Development and Treatment of Attachment Trauma. London: Karnac Books.

Allen, J.G., Fonagy, P. and Bateman, A.W. (2008) Mentalizing in Clinical Practice. Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993) The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363–406. 

Fonagy, P., & Allison, E. (2012) What is mentalization? The concept and its foundations in developmental research. In N. Midgley & I. Vrouva (Eds.), Minding the child: Mentalization-based interventions with children, young people and their families (pp. 11–34). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Fonagy, P., Gergely, G., Jurist, E., Target, M. (2002) Affect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of the Self. Other Press.

Rousmaniere, T. (2017) Deliberate Practice for Psychotherapists: A Guide to Improving Clinical Effectiveness. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sibbett, C.H. (2015) Professional mentalization in psychotherapy and art psychotherapy. Supervision Praxis series. Paper. Belfast: Kairos Consultancy.