Exactly how Therapy Heals by Changing the mind: Mindfulness, Attachment, and Interpersonal Neurobiology

This post explains how mental health and recovery can be understood from an attachment and neurological perspective. Psychotherapy has got the potential to change the brain through boosting neurological integration-allowing all parts of the 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 attention, 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 our own neurology, our ability to form healthy attachments, and our overall psychological health.

Attachment Theory: In order to understand the process of healing (and that of psychotherapy), it is important to know a bit about attachment theory. This theory was developed by John Bowlby in the 60’s, but has more recently gained prominence, generally due to exciting developments within the field that shed light on how attachment (i. e. early childhood) experiences effect brain development. Attachment theory explores the critical importance of an baby’s early experiences with caregivers in terms of forming later patterns of relating that include sense of self (e. g., “I received lots of enjoy, so I must be lovable”), expectations more (e. g., “If I exhibit 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 choice than to base their understanding of truth, and their strategy for dealing with that will reality, on what they experience in your own home. Perhaps the most important aspect of this studying is what they come to expect from other human beings. That is due to the fact that social associations are so critically important to living. Due to the fact humans have a much better chance of enduring (and reproducing) in a group, we are literally wired to need relationships-for our sense of safety, for the psychological and physical health, and 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 loved ones that instills negative expectations of others (and the subsequent maladaptive strategies) could be so debilitating.

Because relationships are usually key to survival, a great deal of the brain is dedicated to monitoring and doing social behavior (determining safety or danger, expressing warmth or risk, etc . ). According to Allan Schore, a nationally acclaimed researcher, the correct hemisphere is more heavily involved in interpersonal processes.
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It is also the side of the human brain that develops more actively within the first two years. During this time the brain is very plastic, with neuronal pathways becoming laid down and strengthened (or, without use, atrophying). This is a concept some may find surprising. It would be simple 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 the way the brain is wired. Because so much of the right brain is molded during the 1st two years, this period is particularly critical in terms of learning how to trust and relate to other people. Reading social cues, having sympathy, even being able to like others and ourselves, is based on how the brain is wired. Although this wiring is largely dependant on how one was related to since a child, corrective experiences in adulthood (such as therapy) can fortunately modify brain wiring as well, which I will say more about later.

Attachment and the Brain: The study of how attachment encounters impact the brain has been largely initiated by a psychiatrist named Daniel Siegel, whose work many therapists, individuals, and educators have grown interested in during the last 5-10 years. Siegel developed a field in the area of attachment research called Interpersonal 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 industry has rocketed, I believe because Siegel’s work confirms what psychologists possess always known-that early relationships are important-while helping us understand why they may be important from a biological point of view. Even though specific knowledge of the brain may not be essential for therapy or counseling, I have found it extremely useful to orient clients to some of the general principles that Siegel (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 tend to be not “on purpose”) and be empowering (since understanding the science behind what we are experiencing can help us make shifts).

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