Dr. Joy Bliss provided a link to an article on the neural substrates of psychotherapeutic change (George I. Viamontes, MD, PhD; and Bernard D. Beitman, MD). The authors of this article seamlessly weave together findings, insights and concepts from the fields of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, perception, memory, learning and psychoanalysis, including object relations theory and self-psychology (of the intersubjective school). While I think the authors engage in more speculation than the scientific tone of the article suggests on its surface, I appreciate what they are trying to accomplish here. Scholars from all of the fields mentioned above have made important observations about mental functioning that can be enriched by cross-disciplinary discussions. The article is very well written, although, as Dr. Bliss noted, it would probably be helpful (I don't think absoultely necessary) to have some knowledge of the areas covered.
Mesulam’s concept of the default mode of brain function is a valuable organizing principle with relevance to the definition of a neurobiology of psychotherapy. The brain’s core survival mechanisms, which can surface under conditions of chronic stress, psychiatric illness, or neurological damage, are not sufficiently sophisticated to support adaptive behavior in our sociocultural context. It is important to consider, however, that every human brain contains this powerful, yet inflexible set of survival-oriented circuits at its center. Despite the adaptive overlays for behavioral control that are developed over a lifetime, manifestations of the default brain surface periodically. Each of us constantly moves along a behavioral continuum that is driven at one pole by the default brain and at the other by the higher functions that are the subject of our second article (see page xxx). Intense emotional states, chronic stress, and the sense of risk demand efficiency and simplification in our interactions and can drive behavior in the direction of the default brain. Psychotherapy promotes behavioral adaptation by augmenting the modulation of the default brain by higher circuits, and increasing the quality and scope of the internal and external variables that determine our actions.
If you're interested in this sort of work and would like to explore it further, I'd suggest Allan Schore beginning with Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. Also check out Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self and Affect Regulation and the Repair of the Self. They are challenging, but I've read and recommend all three.