This short article explains how mental health and recovery can be understood from an connection and neurological perspective. Psychotherapy has got the potential to change the brain through growing neurological integration-allowing all parts of our brain to function as a whole. This type of functioning increases one’s capacity to regulate feelings, maintain a sense of self, connect and empathize with others, respond flexibly, manage fear, have moral recognition, and find meaning. The neurological underpinnings of this will be addressed, as well as just how therapy, the practice of mindfulness, and having loving relationships can all work to impact the neurology, our ability to form healthful attachments, and our overall psychological health.
Attachment Theory: In order to be familiar with process of healing (and that of psychotherapy), it is important to know a bit about attachment theory. This theory was developed simply by John Bowlby in the 60’s, but has more recently gained prominence, largely due to exciting developments within the industry that shed light on how attachment (i. e. early childhood) experiences influence brain development. Attachment theory explores the critical importance of an infant’s early experiences with caregivers in terms of forming later patterns of relevant that include sense of self (e. g., “I received lots of love, so I must be lovable”), expectations more (e. g., “If I communicate need, I will be disappointed/punished”), and strategies for handling relationships (e. g., “I can’t expect consistent care from others, so I will learn to take care of myself”).
Children have little other selection than to base their understanding of truth, and their strategy for dealing with that will reality, on what they experience at home. Perhaps the most important aspect of this understanding is what they come to expect from other humans. That is due to the fact that social romantic relationships are so critically important to living. Since humans have a much better chance of surviving (and reproducing) in a group, we are literally wired to need relationships-for our sense of safety, for our psychological and physical health, as well as for our ability to find meaning. This particular wiring explains why so much of our sense of well-being is dependent on this relationships and why coming from a family members that instills negative expectations of others (and the subsequent maladaptive strategies) can be so debilitating.
Because relationships are key to survival, a great deal of the mind is dedicated to monitoring and engaging in social behavior (determining safety or even danger, expressing warmth or danger, etc . ). According to Allan Schore, a nationally acclaimed researcher, the right hemisphere is more heavily involved in social processes. It is also the side of the brain that develops more actively within the first two years. During this time the brain is incredibly plastic, with neuronal pathways being laid down and strengthened (or, without use, atrophying).
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This is an idea some may find surprising. It would be easy to assume that the brain is pretty much fully-structured at birth (like the hands and feet). But in fact, encounter works alongside genetics to determine how the brain is wired. Because so much from the right brain is molded during the very first two years, this period is particularly critical when it comes to learning how to trust and relate to others. Reading social cues, having empathy, even being able to like others plus ourselves, is based on how the brain is wired. Although this wiring is largely dependant on how one was related to as a child, corrective experiences in adulthood (such as therapy) can fortunately alter brain wiring as well, which I will certainly say more about later.
Attachment as well as the Brain: The study of how attachment encounters impact the brain has been largely pioneered by a psychiatrist named Daniel Siegel, whose work many therapists, individuals, and educators have grown interested in over the last 5-10 years. Siegel developed a field in the area of attachment research called Social Neurobiology, which addresses how the brain is wired through past experiences and exactly how new experiences can help rewire the mind. In the last few years, interest in this field has rocketed, I believe because Siegel’s work confirms what psychologists have always known-that early relationships are usually important-while helping us understand why they may be important from a biological point of view. Although specific knowledge of the brain may not be important for therapy or counseling, I have found this extremely useful to orient clients to some of the general principles that Amtszeichen (and Allan Schore, Steve Porges, among others) have discovered. There is some thing helpful about conceptualizing our behavioral/emotional problems as glitches in our nervous system. This can decrease shame (since it illustrates that our vulnerabilities normally are not “on purpose”) and be empowering (since understanding the science behind what we are experiencing can help us make shifts).
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