#Psychotherapy changes the brain by re-transcription of past memories into explicit memories; understanding #neuroplasticity & #neurogenesis
The process of psychotherapy and re-transcribing past traumatic events invoke our procedural memory, making them explicit and conscious. This process allows for re-transcription of these implicit memories: synthesis realization and integration. A supple brain, elasticity in the brain and the possibilities and limitations of neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, in the context of psychotherapy are examined.
How can clinicians implement neuroscience findings in a way that benefits clients? This brief overview highlights some aspects of neuroplasticity, illuminating the significance of working clinically with the plasticity potential of a brain.
Key neuroscientific discoveries
Our brains are capable of neurogenesis, growing new neurons, and neuroplasticity, creating new neural connections and pathways.
Learning is vital for the process of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. The hippocampus is a region of more neurogenesis than other regions, a significant departure from previous thought. Early traumatic experiences interfere with the normal growth and development of the hippocampus in the limbic region, an area important for memories and emotional regulation.
Psychotherapy is a mechanism used to examine past traumatic events and a process of learning about oneself. Neuroplasticity occurs when the nervous system responds to experiences, thus experience-dependent. Experiences create a stimulus that ignites neural firing patterns in the brain to imprint or re-transcribe an experience, or to reorganize the infrastructure of previous experiences via new neural pathways. This process can occur during psychotherapy.
Antidepressants have been discovered to increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus (Malberg, J., Eisch, A., Nestler, E., & Duman, R., 2000). This creates the possibility of healing a previously damaged area which affects behaviors. A combination of psychotherapy and antidepressants can profoundly improve a persons mental state.
Novel experiences and life-long learning facilitate both neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. Learning is more important than relying on already established skills and established neural pathways. Our brains grow new neurons and pathways from birth until death.
Neuroplasticity converges with psychology
Research about neuroplasticity brings scientific evidence to the foreground from a clinical use perspective. This collective research expands the field of neuroscience, of neural patterns and the process of neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. Understanding the principles of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity can positively impact clinical work with clients, on a neuron level. Neurons that fire together, wire together.
In his book titled The Brain That Changes Itself Doidge (2007) introduces readers to multi-disciplinary scientists, physicians, psychiatrists and neuroscientist, whose collective research demonstrate the plasticity of the brain and introduces the idea that the brain changes based on new information. Norman Doidge, M.D. (2007) conducted research and interviews with many “neuroplasticians” which firmly coined the phrase neuroplasticity.
These advancements in neuroscience inextricably link psychological science with neuroscience. Doidge (2007) cites the research of Eric Kandel, a physician, psychiatrist and 2000 Nobel Prize winner who stated: “there is no longer any doubt that psychotherapy can result in detectable changes in the brain”. Kandel continues to research the hippocampus and the plasticity of implicit and explicit memory. Other citations include that of neuropsychologist Mark Solms and neuroscientist Oliver Turnbull who state that “the aim of the talking cure…from the neurobiological point of view is to extend the functional sphere of influence of the prefrontal lobes”. These discoveries provide evidence of the significance of the intersubjective experience between a clinical practitioner and a client.
Giving scientific weight to the function of neuroplasticity in the context of personal exploration in therapy, e.g. a talking cure, psychotherapy, Doidge (2007) discusses the neurological process of analysis. The benefit of a client talking about past traumatic experiences facilitates the unconscious procedural memory to integrate past trauma with a better understanding. This can produce a calming effect from a neurological perspective. "In the process, they plastically re-transcribe these procedural memories, so that they can become conscious explicit memories...” This allows a person to remember without reliving the emotions of painful past experiences.
In their research Garland, E. & Howard, M. (2009) provide further support for the neuroplasticity growth in response to learning and therapy. “Investigations of neuroplasticity demonstrate that the adult brain can continue to form novel neural connections and grow new neurons in response to learning or training even into old age”. Novel experiences create these new neural connections throughout the lifespan.
Not all of the discoveries lead to enhanced psychological states. While neuroplasticity shows how thoughts and actions can change the brain to create new structures and functions, thus new ways of understanding, we are also introduced to the rigidity of well-established neural networks, also a product of neuroplasticity (Doidge, 2007). Doidge refers to this as the “plastic paradox” whereby the same neuroplasticity that allows our brains to change can also keep us constrained and “stuck” by well-established neural patterns.
Debunking previously held thoughts about Localization
Mainstream psychological science and medicine held the collective belief that the brain was hard-wired and that cells continued to die off. Localizationist’s we more popular and believed that the neuroanatomical structure of the brain was a machine-like device with specific areas for specific functions. Neuroscience has demonstrated that multiple areas of the brain are involved in similar functions and can also rewire to compensate for a damaged area. The research shows that many areas of the brain can be used for multiple functions. Localization of the brain has been re-defined.
Among the neuroscientists Doidge (2007) interviewed was Paul Bach-y-Rita. In 1969 Paul Bach-y-Rita published an article in a European science journal citing his research using a machine that sent signals to the damaged area of a brain that ultimately cured retinal damage in some cases. Bach-y-Rita’s research demonstrated that our brains were capable of neuroplasticity and using other area’s to restructure and create new neural growth. The research publication and its avant-garde nature caused isolation from some of his peers.
Bach-y-Rita had a multi-disciplinary background and approach and tended to follow ideas as they evolved. As a neuroscientist, he had expertise in medicine, psychopharmacology, ocular neurophysiology, visual neurophysiology, and bio-medical engineering. Doidge (2007) asserts that Paul Bach-y-Rita stated “we see with our brains” and that if one area is damaged, another area can take over. He referred to this process as “sensory substitution”.
Psychotherapy changes the brain
It was Eric Kandel who “was the first to show that as we learn, our individual neurons alter their structure and strengthen the synaptic connections between them…” Doidge explained that Kandel’s work demonstrated that learning produces new neurons in the brain that influence our genes and that psychotherapy changes people’s brain structure, “it presumably does so through learning, by producing changes in gene expression that alter the anatomical pattern of interconnections between nerve cells”.
Further support of these brain changes, researchers Liggan & Kay (1999) discuss the neural mechanisms of memory in the context of psychotherapy and reveal that the brain does change, “…neural mechanisms of memory is based on discoveries that training or differential experience leads to significant changes in brain neurochemistry, anatomy, and electrophysiology. Consequently, it is generally accepted that psychotherapy is a powerful intervention that directly affects and changes the brain”.
Liggan & Kay (1999) also demonstrate how psychotherapy affects cerebral metabolic rates, serotonin metabolism, the thyroid axis, and stimulates processes akin to brain plasticity.
#fMRI studies show #neurological changes & activity in patient's receiving #psychotherapy treatment #psychoanalysis #depression
fMRI studies show neurological changes & activity in patient's receiving psychotherapy treatment. Implicit in these findings are both neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, a byproduct of treatment.
Researchers Buchheim, Labek, Walter & Viviani (2013) designed an empirical research study to investigate the outcome of long-term psychotherapy from a neurobiological perspective. “In the present study, we attempted to integrate a clinical description of the psychoanalytic process with two empirical instruments…brain activity based on a functional neuroimaging probe”, (p. 9).
They wanted to create a study that would allow us to “see” the effects of psychotherapy on the brain. To accomplish this, the design included using clinical data, a standardized instrument of the psychotherapeutic process (Psychotherapy process Q-Set, PQS), and functional neuroimaging (fMRI). fMRI scans were administered after therapy sessions while the patient viewed the Adult Attachment Projective Picture System (AAP). This was done for 12-months.
In their research findings Buchheim, Viviani, Kessler, Kachele, Cierpka, Roth, George, Kernberg, Bruns, & Taubner (2012) show improvements in depressive symptoms and neural activity in regions of the brain. "This is the first study documenting neurobiological changes in circuits implicated in emotional reactivity and control after long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy". These scans showed neurological changes and activity in both patients receiving psychotherapy treatment.
In particular, the fMRI’s scans showed changes in the hippocampus, amygdala , subgenual cingulate, and medial prefrontal cortex after psychotherapy treatment. These findings documented neurobiological changes and a reduction of emotional reactivity after long-term psychotherapy. “The significant association of the changes in the subgenual cingulate and medial prefrontal cortex with symptom improvement supported the hypothesis of their relevance to the changes intervened during therapy”, (p. 5).
They conducted a single-case study of a 42-year-old woman who received psychotherapy treatments for one year. The patient was described as having a disorganized attachment style with narcissistic traits, characterized by chronic fluctuating moods and self-esteem. The fMRI scans revealed neural activation in the ventrolateral and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This area is associated with controlling one’s focus and attention, and depression.
Other neural activation revealed from the fMRI scans included the pregenual portion of the medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate and precuneus, the middle temporal gyrus, and the anterior tip of the inferior temporal gyrus, and the occipital calcarine cortex. Buchheim, Labek, Walter & Viviani (2013) felt that these areas were most significant to this study because “The medial prefrontal cortex may also be associated with changes after the therapy of affective disorders…” (p. 9). They believe that observable neurological changes from therapy will be most visible in these brain regions.
The neurological response to psychotherapy allowed them to track this patient’s defensive characteristic via neural activity viewed in the scans. “Using functional neuroimaging, we were able to objectify the defensive structure of this patient during this phase of psychoanalytic treatment and the occurrence of difficult sessions”, (p. 11).
While these research findings may not answer many important questions, they do show a distinct correlation between psychotherapy treatments and neurological activity. More research is needed in this area. “The relevance of these finding for future studies rests in the possibility of documenting specific mechanisms of action of depression therapy by systematically collating results from different studies and comparing different psychotherapeutic approaches…”, (p. 6).
Buchheim A, Labek K, Walter S, & Viviani R. (2013). A clinical case study of a psychoanalytic psychotherapy monitored with functional neuroimaging. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Volume 7(677); pp. 1-13. Doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00677.
Scientific research that gives weight and meaning to the importance of good group juju!
Essential for athletes on a (sports) team is the ability to understand the intentions and goals of each other and of their opponents. To do this they must be able to communicate accurately, have positive social connections, and convey a strong sense of group cohesion among the team. All of this is needed for a successful performance.
This article is a brief overview of the biological psychology process involved in creating a positive mindset among sport team members. It begins with an introduction into the neuroscience behind emotional bonds and how they are relevant. It then expands into a discussion about how positive emotions encourage a better performance overall. These findings are specific to a sports team of players but are also useful among any team group.
In their research Pepping & Timmermans (2012) examine the role Oxytocin plays in the biopsychological process of emotions and moods. Oxytocin is a hypothalamic hormone stored in the posterior pituitary at the base of the brain. This hormone is vital in women during childbirth and lactation, in men and women and how they form pair-bonds in intimate relationships, in social memory, social recognition, and social attachment behavior.
Since Oxytocin is directly related to the biopsychological process of developing emotions between people, Pepping & Timmermans (2012) assert that this extends to sports team members. Integral to a sports team is building trust, cohesion, cooperation, and social motivation among the players. Sports teams share positive experiences and emotions, creating a group cohesion and collaborative effort with a common goal. Research findings illuminate a positive correlation between players who engage in encouraging and supportive behaviors with greater performance and achievements. Their research indicates that “positive social interactions” and “prosocial celebratory behaviors” are linked to the bonding experience of Oxytocin.
Expressions of social emotions communicate cooperation and strategies among sports team members. Research also shows that positive emotions “have profound influences on a number of processes, including attentional control, cognition, and interpersonal functioning “. The beneficial subcomponents of sharing positive emotions are linked to performance, perception, attention, memory, decision-making and judgment. “The expression of an emotional state in one person leads to the experience of similar emotions in a person observing the expression…emotions influence other's people's emotions, feelings, and behaviors, leading to the convergence of emotions and moods”, (Pepping & Timmermans, 2012, p. 2). These findings give support to the importance of all team members and how well they interact.
The bonding effects of Oxytocin enhance the ability for empathy. In very general terms empathy is the capacity to see things from another person’s perspective and to recognize the internal (emotional) states of another. What this research shows is that an increase in Oxytocin produces an increase in the capacity for empathy. Empathy is also related to a player’s ability to perceive the opponent's intentions.
“Oxytocin has effects on cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, mind reading, positive and negative social emotions…cause convergence of positive emotions and moods between people and make it possible that athletes can respond to the emotional behavior from their fellow players and opponents”, (p. 16).
The researcher’s on this team agree that more research is needed on this topic. They believe that new discoveries will have a “significant importance for sport psychological and sports science support, talent identification, coaching, training, team selection, and team development”, (p. 16).
Pepping, G. & Timmermans, E. (2012). Oxytocin and the Biopsychology of Performance in Team Sports. Scientific World Journal. Volume 2012; 2012: 567363. Doi: 10.1100/2012/567363. PMCID: PMC3444846.
#OrganizationalCognitiveNeuroscience expands the practice of #OrganizationalPsychology, #ConsultingPsychology,
Organizational cognitive neuroscience (OCN) is a new term used to describe the intersection, integration and application of nueroscientific discoveries with organizational and consulting psychology.
OCN is being defined in business leadership and marketing research. "…taking a wider nueroscientific approach to researching marketing or business-relevant problems and decisions will allow a greater understanding of why in general we behave or react the way we do, and a correspondingly greater ability to predict this”, (Lee, N., Butler, M., & Senior, C., 2010, p. 130).
Discoveries in neuroscience have produced scientific technological advances using fMRI brain imaging devices. This brain imaging technology has allowed scientists to map activity within regions of the brain to examine human behaviors and responses. These discoveries are expanding organizational psychology towards more neurobiological based interventions and assessments.
We now have a greater understanding and insight into the process of emotional arousal and response patterns for individuals. Brain science imaging techniques are able to teach us and show us the neurological process of decision-making. “By combining this approach with functional brain scanning it is possible to understand which areas of the brain generated that specific emotional response—and whether distinct brain regions are involved in other types of decision making”, (Lee, N., Butler, M., & Senior, C., 2010, p. 130).
Organizational cognitive neuroscience (OCN), while still in its infancy, is quickly forging a new way of thinking about human behavior and decision making from a neurobiological brain systems approach.
Lee, N., Butler, M., & Senior, C. (2010). The brain in business: neuromarketing and organizational cognitive neuroscience. Journal of Marketing. Volume 49; pp. 129–131. doi: 10.1007/s12642-010-0033-8.http://cms.springerprofessional.de/journals/JOU=12642/VOL=2010.49/ISU=3-4/ART=33/BodyRef/PDF/12642_2010_Article_33.pdf
This blog is intended to explore ideas, educate, entertain and expand our thinking. Some posts speak to current trends in the brain sciences, neural benefits of exercise & sports, emotional intelligence and personal growth.