Mentalizing, motivation, and social mentalities: Theoretical considerations and implications for psychotherapy


Correspondence should be addressed to Professor Paul Gilbert, Mental Health Research Unit, Kingsway Hospital, Derby DE22 3LZ, UK (e-mail:


Background. Mentalization has recently been identified as a major process in the origins, maintenance, and recovery from various mental disorders.

Aims. Questions arise however, as to the degree to which deficits in mentalization can be trait or state-like: whether they manifest themselves across all types of human interaction, or are they relationship dependent, such that different types of relationship (e.g., affiliative vs. competitive) can facilitate or compromise mentalizing?

Findings. This paper suggests that mentalization has a complex evolutionary history, has various subtypes and functions, is highly regulated by the experience of threat or safeness within relationships, and can operate differently in different types of social relationship.

Implications. Awareness of this enables therapists to pay particular attention to the social roles and types of relationships in which mentalization occurs, its specific focus and functions for specific types of relationships. Therapists can be mindful of the kind of specific events in social roles that activate threat and loss of mentalizing (e.g., abandonment threats, feeling controlled by ‘the other’, status loss, non-reciprocation).