Affect regulation theory

Developments in counselling and therapy theory:

From Freud to Schore!

By Dr Jim Byrne, January 2018 – Updated on 5th May 2020

Freud-on-dreamsEvery counsellor and psychotherapist needs to understand where their beliefs and attitudes, values and skills come from.  And every counselling and psychotherapy client needs to know that not all theories of counselling and therapy lead to the same kinds of treatment for them, or to the same kinds of curative outcomes.

Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis was the first major manifestation of psychotherapy in the modern sense. It was quickly followed by behaviour therapy, which arose in the UK and Russia in roughly the same era as Freud’s innovation.

Freud emphasized the non-conscious urges of the new born baby, and how it related to its carers with sexual phantasies (in which ‘sexual’ actually meant ‘any manifestation which we would normally think of as love’).  Because Freud craved scientific respectability, he build his system on the back of biology and his experience of neurology.  But his limited perspective was this: Humans evolve sexually, from simple beginnings through puberty to full genital sexual potency.  But this is only one aspect of human biological and neurological development.  The more important ones include attachment urges, from about the age of two months (Schore, 1994, 2003), and the development of the right orbitofrontal cortex, which is the seat of the internalization of social modelling of emotion regulation.

Behaviour therapy competed with the Freudian psychoanalytical approach, especially in American and Britain, until the 1960’s, when the limitations of the behavioural paradigm became obvious, and then we saw the emergence of the cognitive therapy revolution.

From about 1946 onwards, Eric Berne’s ‘Transactional Analysis’ had begun to emerge and develop; and this was essentially a quicker and more efficient, and easier to understand,  approach to Freud’s ego-psychology.  Gestalt therapy also emerged in that period, and involved looking at the involvement of the body in the formation and storage of emotional states (or psycho-physical trauma).

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, a new development occurred: Albert Ellis emphasized that people were not upset by what happened to them, but rather by their ‘irrational beliefs’. Most of his arguments proved to be false. (See Byrne, 2019).  Aaron Beck followed in Ellis’ footsteps, substituting ‘negative automatic thoughts’ for ‘irrational beliefs’.  This led us into an era of blaming the client for upsetting themselves by their unrealistic thoughts, beliefs and attitudes.

Allan Schore PsychotherapyIn the UK, in the 1950’s, Melanie Klein, in an effort to update Freud, in connection to her psychoanalysis of children and their emotional problems, pushed the idea of the child’s phantasies to new heights.  But she was rejected by one of her supervisees – one John Bowlby – who cared too much for the feelings of children to be willing to go along with the idea that they caused their own problems via their sexual phantasies and power phantasies, and that their parents negative behaviours were ‘irrelevant’ – which Klein believed!  And thus began the long march of ‘attachment theory’ into the consciousness of all kinds of counsellors and therapists; firstly as small add-ons; and later as a whole new approach to counselling and therapy: Attachment Therapy.

In the USA, in the 1980s, inspired by Bowlby, and emerging trends in neuroscience, a certain Allan Schore began a ten year study of various relevant sciences (including branches of neuroscience, developmental psychology, Attachment theory, and others), to create a whole new perspective on the birth of the individual in social intercourse, including the innate urge to attach to a main carer. Out of this development has come Affect Regulation Theory, the most radical rethinking of the nature of the human individual – or what we (in E-CENT* counselling) like to call ‘the social individual’. (*E-CENT is short for Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy).


Here’s an interesting video clip by Dr Allan Schore:

Where E-CENT and Affect Regulation Theory overlap is here:

  1. We see the individual as primarily a non-conscious processor of emotive (affective) responses to life experiences. (This is called ‘primary affect’, or innate affect).
  2. We see the first few years of the life of each individual – in the company of mother (or another main carer) as the fundamental shaper of personality, character and life chances. In this period we develop our ‘social emotions’ – or ‘categorical affects’. And this emotional wiring, in the upper reaches of our right orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is the road map and skills set that we use to find our way through our adult life.
  3. We believe that relating to our clients from our emotional, right-brain intuitions is more powerful and important than the (undoubtedly necessary, but not primary) relating to them from our cooler, ‘thinking’, left-brain cogitations or mentalizations.

This is a huge emotional revolution in counselling and therapy…

And our approach – in Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) – is built around attachment theory and affect regulation theory.  Please take a look at our list of books at the ABC Bookstore Online UK.***

… More later…