Change Your Brain with Psychotherapy
Wholeness Healing Center’s therapists have been enjoying a course in neuropsychology from trainer Dr. Barry Koch. Koch has his Ph.D. in Clinical Social Work and has taught in graduate-level MSW programs for several decades. The course has been informative and exciting as we look at the evolution of neuroscience in psychotherapy.
I want to look at a primary and important therapy component from this training. Clients who participate in therapy experience changes in their brains, showing that therapy has a biological, physiological effect on the body. Good psychotherapy changes the wiring in the brain, allowing for better functioning, integration, emotional regulation, and changes in our thinking process.
We have learned more about what is happening in the brain through the development of PET, SPECT, and fMRI scans. These scans show that psychotherapy can lead to measurable changes in brain activity, connectivity, and functioning of the neural circuits that are associated with emotions, cognition, and behavior changes. The rewiring of negative thought patterns and behavior changes reinforces healthier patterns. Learning new ways of thinking, coping, and behaving facilitates changes in behavior and emotional regulation, engaging brain regions associated with memory, attention, and executive function. The brain is working in new areas and creating new pathways and wiring through all these experiences.
Therapy is about more than just “talking with a friend.” Therapy is about the clients sharing the difficulties going on in their lives and experiencing mirror neurons through the therapeutic relationship. These mirror neurons allow the client to experience someone “really listening” and “understanding” and having “compassion” “without judgment,” which then feels “safe.” The therapist explores and asks questions to guide clients to identify their thoughts and feelings more deeply, which promotes self-reflection and insight. Support and encouragement foster a sense of safety and trust, allowing the client to explore difficult topics. Validation is fundamental as it acknowledges the client’s emotions and experiences. Collaborative problem-solving, goal setting, cognitive restructuring, and exploration of emotions all tie into the therapeutic process. Each component guides the client to use parts of their brain that will begin to rewire the brain. With new thoughts and new ideas, new pathways are created.
The very first new pathway can develop through the “therapeutic relationship” that allows for the foundation of the rest of these components to be developed. And, “yes,” that relationship can feel good. When you have a place to be yourself and talk about your concerns, the relationship is like no other. Yes, it does feel good. It feels safe. It also feels a bit uncomfortable, but with a sense of safety, the therapist guides you to dip your toe into the next uncomfortable place. Through all these components, you do change, and your brain can prove it. A physiological change occurs when you do the work of therapy. It isn’t easy, but it can be profound and life-changing and well worth the courage and energy it takes to do it. Now, we can prove that through the changes in your brain.Tags: Biological effects on the body when participating in thearapy, Counseling changes the brain, Psychotherapy changes the brain
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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