TU32: Mentalizing – Breaking Down A Critical Component For Secure Relating With Tina Adkins

by | May 24, 2017 | Attachment, Brain Science, Emotional Intelligence, Episodes, Guest Interviews, Neuroscience, Parenting, Relationships, Therapy, Trauma

Show Notes


Mentalizing: Breaking Down a Critical Component for Secure Relating with Tina Adkins, Phd
Show Notes

Mentalizing seems easy – but actually is quite complex. Thinking accurately about our own and others minds is such a core skill that many consider it a pre-condition for self-soothing, empathy and other facets of emotional intelligence and social-emotional maturity. It is also something that one can learn at any time in life, so it’s never too late to improve in this capacity for yourself or your children!

Mentalizing and Attachment

Of course this is directly related to attachment styles, which is part of our interest. The coolest thing is that you don’t have to have even earned security to learn to do it and interrupt the unintended transmission of insecure relating! We used to think you had to have years of intensive psychotherapy or a long-term secure relationship to convert to earned secure in order to naturally parent in a way that doesn’t transmit the insecure internal working models to our kids. Now we know that with short-term cognitive interventions we can teach this particular skill and that alone improves the attachment security outcome for children of high risk parents. This is exciting!

When early caregivers are unable to reflect on their children’s state of mind, these kids do not receive the active and ongoing feedback they require to develop this important capacity. This is big, because without this skill they do not learn how to understand their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations; nor the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of others. Mentalization is what enables us to develop a sense of identity and the capacity to understand both our own feelings and motivations; and those of others.

Keeping Your Own and Others’ Minds in Mind

Dan Siegel calls it Mindsight, it’s also been called Reflective Function and Metacognition, but it all basically refers to being able to accurately see your own mind as it works – body, feelings, thoughts, and other people’s minds as they are whirling away, to infer the attitudes, motivations, affect and feeling behind the thinking. The better we are at mentalizing the more securely we relate.

Dr. Adkins breaks down the concept and skills required, it’s simple but not as easy as it seems. Her work in the foster care system is truly revolutionary, but these skills can be applied to adoption, children in general, and adults wanting to improve on their feelings of insecurity in the world.


Tina Adkins, PhD, is a Research Associate at the University of Texas at Austin, School of Social Work. She completed her PhD in Theoretical Psychoanalysis under the direction of Peter Fonagy and Patrick Luyten at University College London and the Anna Freud Center, specializing in attachment based interventions for foster/adopted children and their families. Her work in London resulted in a promising psychoeducational intervention for foster/adoptive parents designed to increase their mentalizing skills. Her research and clinical work continue to focus on the development and assessment of mentalization in parents and families.



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