The child is ‘parent’ of the adult


Blog Post C1: Theory of human development in emotive-cognitive embodied-narrative therapy

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

23rd June 2021


Three Principles of Childhood Development, which shape our later adult life…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2021


Front cover Holistic Couns reissuedThe theory of emotive-cognitive embodied-narrative therapy was developed by this author over twenty years of study and application, in private practice, with more than 1,000 clients.  It was also developed through many conversations with Renata Taylor-Byrne about stress, meditation, relaxation, sleep science, positive mental attitude, diet and nutrition, and various systems of physical exercise. (Subsequently, Renata contributed a lot of research, and we co-authored some books together.***)

In 2016, I set out to boil my learning down into a limited list of key principles, which I included in Chapter 3 of Holistic Counselling in Practice.*** 

What I came up with was a list of twenty core principles of E-CENT theory, which included the following three principles, which point up the centrality of early childhood experience to our lifelong prospects for happiness and close relationships:

The 20 core principles of human development

Firstly, I do not make the mistake of extrapolating from adult functioning in order to understand the psychology of human nature.  Instead, I begin with the baby in the mother’s womb (where the mother may be more or less stressed, and more or less well nourished, depending upon the actual circumstances of her life).  I then move on to the baby post-birth, which is colonized by a carer (normally mother) who may be more or less sensitive to the baby’s signals of comfort and discomfort; more or less responsive to the baby’s needs; and more or less caring.  And I also take account of how stressed the mother was, by her life circumstances, even before the baby was conceived.  These are the foundations of human emotional and general psychological functioning.


Secondly, I accept the Attachment theory proposition, that the baby is born with an innate attachment drive, which causes it (after a period of about twenty to twenty-four weeks of development) to seek to attach itself to a main carer.  The attachment bond that is formed becomes either secure or insecure, depending upon whether the mother (or main carer) is “good enough” – meaning sensitive, responsive, and caring enough to soothe the affective states[i] of the baby.  Later father and siblings become important attachment figures for the baby. And the baby forms a set of internal working models of relationship based upon those earliest relationships.


Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim Byrne
Fictionalized story of  the life of Jim Byrne

Third, the first five or six years of life are taken to be the prime determinants of what kind of life the individual will live.  Very largely, the emotionally significant narratives (stories), scripts (maps) and frames (lenses) that the child learns and forms during this period – which manifest in the form of moods and emotional states, expectations, beliefs and habitual patterns of behaviour – will determine its trajectory through life, all other things being equal.  There is, of course, some degree of malleability of the human brain-mind, and so what was once shaped badly (by negative relationship experiences) can to some extent be reshaped into a better form by subsequent ‘curative experiences’, with a love partner, or with a counsellor or psychotherapist. (Wallin, 2007; Doidge, 2008).


For more of these principles, please see Holistic Counselling in Practice.***


That’s all for now.

Best wishes,


Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Email: Dr Jim Byrne.***



[i] An ‘affective state’ is a state of the body-brain-mind of an individual, in which there is physiological arousal and a felt sense of emotional attraction (‘positive affect’) or aversion (‘negative affect’).  For most practical purposes, among counsellors, the word affect may be used interchangeably with ‘feelings’ and ‘emotions’.

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