Overview of Program

In this workshop Susan Hart will bridge the latest decades of brain research with attachment theory and developmental psychology, focusing on a core insight in personality formation – that the brain interacts with the environment through experiences of being attuned with important others. The key to understanding and healing such diverse problems as stress, posttraumatic disorder and even disorganized attachment is that they are responses to massive misattunement processes.

Healthy personality development occurs in an interpersonal system that is co-regulated through attuned and synchronized ‘now-moments’ of interaction. This is the hallmark of the healthy parent-child dyad as well as the healthy psychotherapy relationship, where psychotherapists bear the primary responsibility for creating co-regulated synchrony with the client through the quality of their presence as well as their intentional methods and interventions.

Through video clips and experiential exercises Susan Hart will give a brief summary of child development from the autonomic (sensory and arousal) level, to the limbic (emotional) level, to the neocortical (mentalization) level of interaction. Organized in the Neuroaffective Compass Model, these three experiential levels offer a framework for insight into:

• healthy emotional development,

• the nature of dissociation,

• assessing the clients level of personality competence and proximal zone of development, and  

• selecting the best interventions to help and support traumatized children, families and adults out of traumatic   and disregulated states.

Learning Objectives

Attendees will be able to: 

  1. Learn to identify relevant aspects of the Neuroaffective triangle: Theory – Method – Self-agency.
  2. Gain more knowledge of how trauma and insecure attachment arrest personality development.
  3. Discover resources and imbalances on the different hierarchical levels of the brain.
  4. Structure therapy according to the Neuroaffective compass model of personality development.
  5. Connecting bottom-up and top-down strategies - from sensorimotor interaction to mentalization, and back.
  6. Navigate a therapy session with the inquiry “What works for whom?”.

Program Outline

The relationship between windows of opportunity and the proximal zone of development

Nature – nurture


Self-regulatory capacity

Establishing macro- and micro regulation

Structure, limits rules and rituals

Resonance and mirror neurons

The hierarchical brain

Quantum leaps of development and Paul McLean’s model of the triune brain:




Developmental arrest:

Lack of development of neural structures and circuits

Regressive processes due to strain and psychological overload


Treatment goals for psychological imbalances

Symptom reduction

Emotional and personality development

Integration of dissociated structures – such as trauma healing

Mental development occurs at 3 levels:

Synchronizing capacity

Emotional attunement

Mentalizing dialogues

The Neuroaffective Compasses

An overview on:

Autonomic level

Limbic level

Prefrontal level

The autonomic compass

Autonomic self-protective strategies

Synchronization processes in normal development

Synchronization processes in therapy

The limbic compass

Limbic self-protective strategies

Attunement processes in normal development

Attunement processes in therapy

The prefrontal compass

Prefrontal self-protective strategies

Mentalizing processes in normal development

Mentalizing processes in therapy

Working from “Bottom Up” and “top Down”

From social engagement to mentalization

Connecting all levels in the hierarchical brain

Present moments in psychotherapy