Learning with Emotion and through Relationship

Violin Teacher
“Violin Teacher 2.” By Nathan Russell on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

One of the most striking ideas I encountered in all of my graduate school reading assignments was one attributed to Dan Siegel, “We feel, therefore we learn.” (SourceIn other words, we must connect to something before we integrate it as part of ourselves.

One of my favorite professors loved Dan Siegel and his research and work on “interpersonal neurobiology.”

My professor was a psychodynamic therapist who strongly believed, like Freud once believed, that we would one day be able to fully bridge the biology and mind gap. That medications may be helpful, but that psychotherapy itself also has this mysterious power to re-arrange and change and fire off the neural and biological processes that guide people toward balance. In other words, that our relationships, and in the clinical room specifically, the psychotherapeutic relationship, have the potential to neurobiologically change us (Siegel). 

Dan Siegel also believes that learning and motivation are profoundly influenced by relationships.

In your case (if you’re a social worker reading this blog for exam prep), your relationship to social work and your relationship with your clients is probably what keeps you interested and more receptive and motivated to learn about the profession, without feeling like you’re dry reading information from a textbook.

As a tutor for social workers, I always find it gratifying when students tell me they were able to see an idea a different way, and in turn, they reinforce my own mind’s attempts to connect ideas in different ways for others.

Although taking a licensing test may seem like an obstacle lacking any relationship, I’m wondering what it would be like to remember your relationship to social work as you begin or continue your studying: your reason for becoming a social worker, your relationships with your clients, a good supervisor, professor, or anyone who has taught you something along the way. What is your relationship to yourself, your anxieties about getting licensed, and what is your relationship to your vision of what you hope to do with social work?

How can this vision help you study and more importantly, connect to all of those ideas and skills that you already know?

How can you strengthen all of these relationships?

References (Both video presentations by Dan Siegel, M.D.)

Happy and Well’s Video Presentation on Dan Siegel


Neuroscience and Psychotherapy


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