Archives for Neuroscience
You know the story, an apple a day's supposed to keep the doctor away. But can a healthy diet also help keep depression at bay, too? Some researchers see a connection. And that's important, because sometimes depression's treated as though it's "all in your head." As it turns out, it may well be in your body, too. And, if that's the case for you, then it's worth investigating. So let's take a quick look…
This sign in the photo – “PLAY” – is at a local park near a children’s play area. I love its whimsy. There’s something wonderful about a street sign that’s about as anti-stop-sign as you can get. A sign that’s green for a start, and that insists on such a fabulous pursuit. So when was the last time you played? Or are you too serious – too grownup – for that? (And, if so, what might you be missing out on?)
Welcome to Part 3 of this interview with Dr Harville Hendrix, co-founder of Imago Relationship Therapy and internationally renowned bestselling author of “Getting the Love You Want.” Here, Dr Hendrix starts out by talking about how neuroscience might impact who you are in relationships, too: For the past two or three years I’ve been reading a lot on brain research, and the brain people seem to agree … that an integrated brain is the function of an integrated context, and that that is the neurophysiological basis for a sense of psychological wellbeing. And no matter what you do to try to shape-up your psychological life, if you don’t have brain integration [and relationships] in the balance, you’re not going to feel good; you’re going to feel anxious.
When was the last time you took a close look at your mind? It can be quite a tricky thing to ‘see’ – elusive, maybe even evasive sometimes – for we’re used to seeing with it, rather than looking at it. But there are ways you can catch it in action and get to know it better. And, if the latest neuroscience is right, it’s well worth doing. For not only is the mind “what the brain does” (Hanson 2009), the mind actually shapes what the brain becomes, on a physical, synaptic level. So ultimately it shapes who you become. It’s all pretty interconnected… So how can you get to know this intricate system of you a little better? And how might you help nurture it towards a richer sense of mental health and aliveness? Dr Daniel Siegel talks about a thing called “mindsight” (2010). Basically, it’s a way “to see and shape [our] inner world with clarity, depth and power” (ibid, p.xxi). Mindsight lets us “…move our lives toward well-being and health” (ibid). And it does all of this in three simple steps: Openness, Objectivity and Observation. Let’s take a closer look…
“Mental health.” They sound like pretty dull words. And it seems we know best what they mean when things go wrong with them. We hear general statements about what mental health ‘should’ (or ‘shouldn’t’) look like for everyone. So it often seems like a kind of one-size-fits-all expression. But if you dig a little deeper beneath their surface, buried within these two words lie all manner of riches. And there’s meaning to be found here that’s for you alone. So grab your shovel and come dig with me for a moment.
“Wellbeing is at the heart of everything,” suggested this billboard as I wandered past recently. Or is it? What about in your life? Where does wellbeing feature in your scheme of things? On your list of priorities? (Or maybe it doesn’t quite make it onto that list?) It can be so easy in life (and in therapy) to focus on the ‘negative’ side – the heartache, the pain, the frustrations, the angst. To notice what’s ‘wrong’ over what might still be ‘right’. To kind of zoom in close on the tragedy and push the joy somewhere out into our peripheral vision. In fact, it’s thought we might be “pretty much hardwired to focus on the negative,” as Dr Ruth Buczynski puts it. That’s your brain’s “negativity bias” at work – and it’s a pretty diligent little worker… So what’s this negativity bias all about? And how might you rebalance it enough to entice a bit more wellbeing back into your life?
How often have you heard someone say, “It’s just the way I am”? Or, “It’s just who I am.” Maybe defending themselves somehow. Or limiting their options in some way. Or undermining a sense of self-esteem. And how often have you been the one saying it? (Or maybe even just thinking it). It can certainly seem that way sometimes – that we just ‘are who we are’ and there’s no getting around it. That we’re immutable, static, solid. (Stuck?) Yet there’s another way of looking at all of this. Of looking at us. For our brains tell a different story about who we are. They remind us that we, quite literally, can change at any time. That our behaviour – towards the world and towards ourselves – actually shapes us, from moment to moment, right down to a synaptic level. And they hint at another saying: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”* So what are you doing with your brain? And how might you use it more mindfully to sculpt your self?
“Intersections” – our days seem full of them. Places where our lives overlap with one another, where there’s a merging of the paths we’re on, where we converge in relationship, and maybe even share a meeting of the minds. It all sounds a bit metaphorical… But it turns out that on another level, it’s uncannily real. For neuroscience is finding that “relationships are not just what we do – they shape who we become” (Dr Dan Siegel, 2011). Welcome to ‘interpersonal neurobiology’, a field that sees the brain not as an isolated creature locked in a skull, but as a social organ, linked to other brains. Where our relationships are seen as the way this social organ (our brain) evolves. Where relationships are, quite literally, “the substrate in which we grow” (ibid). In fact, it’s even thought that, just as our brains have a biological synapse – a rich space across which our thoughts leap from neuron to neuron – so, too, there’s a social synapse – the rich space between brains which our thoughts and emotional selves leap out into.
Therapy’s a bit of an enigma. It seems to work – but how? How can sitting in a room with someone and talking about things have such a deep impact? Many psychotherapists think the answer lies in the relationship. That the therapeutic space between client and therapist can act as a kind of safe vessel to travel through the emotional turbulence that’s explored. That the therapeutic relationship is a chance to experiment with new behaviours in a safe framework. And that really being heard – really being seen – matters profoundly. But that’s sometimes sounded a bit weak in the face of cold, hard science. And so, the more technique-based therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and even some online therapies have often seemed like the more ‘solid’ options simply because they’ve seemed easier to measure somehow. Until now.