Prefrontal Cortex— Functions and Treatment
In our last newsletter I talked about brain health and I stated that in this edition we would talk about one part of the brain, what it looks like when it is unhealthy and what things we can do to increase the health in this area of the brain.
The brain has the following brain systems: prefrontal cortex, cingulated gyrus, basal ganglia, temporal lobes, deep limbic systems, and the cerebellum. In this article we will focus on the prefrontal cortex of the brain.
The prefrontal cortex is located in the front part of your brain, your forehead area, and is about 30% of your brain. This is the area where focus, forethought, impulse control, organization, planning, judgment, empathy and insight function. Other ways to see this part of the brain is that it is the “executive” of your brain. It is also where cause and effect happen and where your conscience is found.
The prefrontal cortex develops last in the brain, often when we are in our early twenties. Cause and effect also develops at this time, which is why teenagers do not always seem to get it. They may not really “think” about the consequences of their actions because their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed.
When the prefrontal cortex is not functioning optimally or has been damaged, you will see a loss of emotional control. If the prefrontal lobe is not activated enough, you will see the following disorders: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Schizophrenia, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Brain Trauma, Dementia, or Depression. If it is too active you may see Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Anorexia, disorders which are apt to be micro-managing.
If you have a low activity prefrontal cortex, you may be conflict-driven as conflict will liven up the prefrontal cortex or wake it up. Those with ADHD may not have a short attention span for everything as they will pay attention to new things or things that stimulate them but can’t stay with things that require concentration and focus and are not necessarily interesting to them (Amen, 1998).
Dr. Amen suggests the following treatment for prefrontal cortex:
transcranial magnetic stimulation, neurobiofeedback, hyperbaric oxygen, intense aerobic exercise, diet changes (higher protein diet), fish oil (EPA more stimulating), supplements such as Sam E (especially with depression) or L-tyrosine, relationship counseling, and coaching. We do neurofeedback treatment at Wholeness Healing Center and find it to be very helpful in training the brain to function more optimally.
Another treatment recommendation is to focus on what you want in life versus what you don’t want. Dr. Amen has his clients do goal-setting in all areas of their lives. This is because of two things: focusing on the negative aspects of your life and of others makes you vulnerable to depression and can damage relationships. However, focusing on the positive things in your life and in others helps to activate the prefrontal cortex (which is better than awakening it by setting up conflict) and will enhance your life and your relationships. So it seems like a “no-brainer”. I like this because again, we have control in our life if we make choices of how we think and on what we focus. When we make choices to focus on gratitude and our blessings, we actually can change the way we feel and the way our brain operates. So give it some thought, look at your own behaviors and see if your prefrontal cortex needs to function more optimally. Maybe start by taking out pen and paper and writing down the blessings you have in your life. (Amen, 1998)
Amen, D. D. (1998). Change your Brain Change Your Life. New York: Three Rivers Press.
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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