What is Bilateral Integration and How Can it Help Us?

Dan Siegel is a psychiatrist and neuroscience researcher at UCLA. If you’ve ever read anything about mindfulness, you’ve probably interacted with some of his work. According to Siegel, well-being is all about integration. This kind of integration can help us manage stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also help us thrive at home and at work.

Siegel describes integration across eight domains: consciousness, bilateral and vertical neurology, state, memory, narrative, interpersonal, time, and identity. Whenever we talk about “left-brained” or “right-brained” activities, we’re talking about bilateral integration.

Historically, we tend to think of the left part of the brain as the more organizational and detail-oriented side, and the right part of the brain as the more artistic and creative side. There are even some career assessments that claim to be able to help you identify if you are more right-brained or left-brained.

This is a bit reductionist. In reality, we use both parts of our brains for just about every activity we engage in. As a result, most professionals now tend to use terms like “right-mode processing” or “left-mode processing.” This is important because we all have a default. We either tend toward right-dominant processing or left-dominant processing.

In other words, the goal isn’t to be a “left-brained person” who’s really good with spreadsheets, and not so good with people. Nor is it to be a “right-brained person” who is creative but can never arrive to a meeting on time. The goal is to be an integrated person who is able to move fluidly back and forth across different forms of processing as the situation or context calls for.

Most of us tend to have an idea of where our defaults are. However, we all have blind spots. This can be one of the greatest benefits a good therapist can provide. By helping grow in awareness of our blind spots when it comes to our default settings, we can not only better manage our thoughts and emotions, but we can also become better spouses, family members, bosses and co-workers.


Written by: Eric McClerren

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