Imagine a world in which everyone was entirely influenced by their feelings and intuitions and made every decision without any rational consideration. In this world the focused analysis of the left brain would go ignored. Whatever the outcome would be, therapy would look very different than it does for us. In that imaginary world, therapy would be focused on developing a new capacity to use the rational, left brain lens as a helpful support to the more dominant right brain.
But, of course, our world is just the opposite. We make decisions (and defend them) based on the logic of the situation. Depending on how committed we are to the left brain, we might ignore more and more of the information provided by the right brain. Our society is fixated on the rational left, dominating the more intuitive right, and there’s no shortage of reasons why. But the truth is that for all the good we do when we incorporate our best rational thinking (left) in our decisions, we do ourselves a great disservice when we ignore the rich data from the intuitive right. What is the evolutionary advantage for if we don’t use it?
Rediscovering the Right Brain
When we consciously consider the information the five senses mediate, we are often using the left brain. We think about the objects under consideration in language: the leaves are green, the fire hydrant is hard, these potato chips are crunchy. These are all left brain processes. They are slow and focused, and they participate in the process we call perception.
Our right brain, on the other hand, is processing the same incoming information a little differently and, importantly, non-consciously. Rather than processing new information as thoughts, it registers information as feeling: good or bad, positive or negative, approach or withdraw, safe or dangerous. This is called neuroception. These rapid evaluations are the unseen background to our thinking. These feelings arrive hundreds of milliseconds prior to our first thoughts about what is in front of us. When your hand touches a hot element, you recoil before the thought of danger or pain registers consciously—i.e., thinking something along the lines “the element is hot. I should quickly move my hand before i’m badly burned”—because the right brain is more immediately responsive than the left.
Because we live in a society that prizes left brain thinking, most of us have become experts at perception and analysis. We are most comfortable with our awareness of the world through the lens of our left brain. And although we never lose some natural sensitivity to the right brain, we are not experts with it. Therapy in a left brain world teaches clients how to bring awareness to the processes of the right brain and how to integrate it. This leads to a greater sense of mastery of one’s sense of the world through both our facility to be aware of and to process information that comes from our left hemisphere (cognitive) and our right (affective).