‘Mentalising simply implies a focus on mental states in oneself or in others, particularly in explanations of behaviour.

That mental states influence behaviour is beyond question.

Beliefs, wishes, feelings and thoughts, whether inside or outside our awareness, determine what we do’ [1].


Mentalising involves a capacity for interpretation of thoughts and actions, to ‘think about thinking’.

It’s experiential in the sense of being a starting point for thinking.

A thought is often accompanied by bodily sensations, emotions and/or images.

This is followed by an awareness or noticing what one is thinking and feeling.

Then one is able to think about what one has caught oneself thinking about.

If we think about our thinking, this is ‘explicit’ mentalising.

‘Implicit’ mentalising involves these processes but we remain unaware of it.

Mentalising is concerned with the meanings that we attribute to our own and others’ actions.

It’s a skill that can be present or absent to greater or lesser degrees [2]. 


When considering the process of mentalising in the context of relationships with other people it incorporates other equivalent concepts such as ‘mindblindness’, empathy, and emotional intelligence.

I’ll look more at these in a while …




[1] Bateman, A. W. & Fonagy, P. (2006). Mentalization-Based Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder: A Practical Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press (p.1).

[2] Holmes, J. (2001) The search for the secure base: Attachment theory and psychotherapy. Hove: Routledge (p.10).


(This is an edited excerpt from my book A Lawyer’s Guide to Wellbeing and Managing Stress published by ARK Group in 2015.)

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