The Importance of Being Mentalized

The psychoanalyst Peter Fonagy speaks about the importance of mentalization–being thought of by another, so that we might think of ourselves. He says, “If we do not have someone around us who is able to think about us accurately, as we are, we will have an enfeebled sense of ourselves. We will never really be certain exactly who we are. Or we just mis-perceive ourselves.”

What can happen in therapy, he explains, is a helpful relationship in which the therapist mirrors back an accurate representation of the patient and their internal experiences. That relational process can be healing. “Therapy,” he says, “in part is about someone else who has your mind in mind, who you can go to to find yourself therein… At a very profound level, what we [therapists] need to be able to do is to be available to be there for our patients, to present our minds to them, as really a space for exploration, where we try our best, our hardest, to sit side by side with them to try to see the world through their eyes, to create an image of their minds, not to explain to them who they are, but for them to find themselves in the picture that we have constructed of them.”