Brain based therapy
Brain based therapy has grown considerably in the last 20 years with the advent of the PETscan and fMRI scans. They have shown us what is going on in the brain when we do certain things. whether itís recognising that coma patients are in fact responsive, for example; thinking of an action such as walking upstairs corresponds to yes - due to their motor cortex becoming active - or the discovery of mirror neurons which fire when we see someone else doing something.
The discoveries add a new dimension to therapy because it underpins our understanding of what we need to do to improve our mental wellbeing.
Here are some examples:
Make your own Happiness
Dr Richard Davidson studied the brains of Buddhist monks and discovered when they meditated on compassion on a regular basis, changes were found in the left hand pre-frontal cortex. This showed that continually thinking positive thoughts and experiencing positive emotions can change the structure of the brain.
Also see: National Geographic feature
This is exciting news but very recently Psychologists Wil Cunningham and Tabitha Kirkland at Ohio State University uncovered another effect while scanning the brains of 38 volunteers as they looked at a series of pictures designed to evoke positive, negative or neutral feelings.
The scientists were focusing on the amygdala, an almond-shaped region used in early processing of information about the world around us and emotional reactions to it. Our early warning system if you like. The scans showed that all the volunteers' brains reacted the same way to negative and neutral images, with negative pictures causing more arousal in the amygdala than neutral ones. But the most striking result was in the happiest volunteers, who had scored five and above on a seven-point happiness test. When they saw positive images, the activity in their amygdalas rose much higher than it did in the less happy people. This is interesting because it was thought that the Amygdala was just involved with negative thoughts and the fight or flight response, but it has been found to guide other neural processes, including attention and perception, it deals with the threats AND opportunities that a person encounters. Because happy people notice and respond more strongly to joyful objects and events in the world, their increased sensitivity helps reinforce their happiness over time.
Other areas that reinforces our happiness comes from helping other people. When a person performs an act of kindness the brain produces dopamine, secondly, the brain has its own natural versions of morphine and heroine: endogenous opioids, such as endorphins. It is believed that when a person does an act of kindness they feel good because of the endorphins.
Dr David Hamilton says that if you do an act of kindness face-to-face with someone the body produces Oxytocin, the bonding hormone. It binds to the lining of our blood vessels and causes the dilation of the arteries. The side effect of all that is a reduction of blood pressure. Oxytocin is a cardio-protective hormone so it benefits the nervous system. The longest nerve in the human body the vagus nerve, which controls inflammation in the body. So positive thoughts have a benefit to our immune system over time.
Attention and focus
There is part of the brain responsible for noticing stuff. You may have heard about the fluffy idea of laws of attraction, but itís nothing more than the brain suddenly becoming aware of something it was unaware before. An example is you purchase a new car Ė suddenly you are aware of other cars of the same make, model and colour. You may not have noticed them before but now theyíre everywhere. Itís at this point we may start to believe in coincidence and other forces at work, but itís your Reticular Activating System (RAS). Your RAS would draw your attention to all those cars that Ďmatchedí whereas previously your attention would have been elsewhere and essentially filtered out.
A great experiment in attention and focus has been around for a while now Ė itís great fun so please take a few minutes out to view it:
The attention experiment
Solution Focused therapy
So there are some of the brain based scientific explanations we like to use within our therapy rooms, helping individuals to stay focused on the positive to create a wealth of good chemistry within the brain and body. Itís not magic, but it takes being mindful about what weíre thinking and how we are responding to situations to help us realise and make those changes.
Try this to keep you feeling positive Morecambe and Wise