May 13, 2021

HOW AND WHY NEUROSCIENCE MAY IMPACT THE THERAPEUTIC PROCESS?

By Oliver Armstrong
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I provided an answer to a question that I came across recently in a trauma support group, and I thought it was interesting enough to share with you…

The person asked: “HOW AND WHY NEUROSCIENCE MAY IMPACT THE THERAPEUTIC PROCESS?”

Now, I’m not a neuroscientist and nor do I claim to be one. However, I have read many books and research articles relating to neuroscience and its applicability to the mind and therapeutic change. 

And ever since I learned these principles, the results I helped my clients achieve not only became significantly more profound, but the amount of time it took for them to achieve their desired results reduced to hours, sometimes even minutes.

There are three specific neuroscience principles I will briefly explain and they are three pieces of information I believe EVERY therapist should not only know about, but should keep in mind at all times.

They are:

Hebb’s Law, 

Long Term Potentiation (LTP), 

and the Quantum Zeno Effect (QZE).

Hebb’s Law is commonly simplified as “Neurons that fire together wire together”

In a therapeutic context this can mean the linking of separate individual issues, such as two separate traumatic events, or even unrelated things - phobias of inanimate, non-threatening objects are an example of this.

To describe LTP very simply, it comes down to the fact that neural pathways in the brain get stronger through repetition - essentially the more you focus on one thing, the stronger the associated neurological networks physically become in the brain.

And a simple explanation of the QZE is when you repeatedly observe/focus on one particular thing; at the cellular level it stabilises/pauses, meaning the brain circuits get held in place - what you focus on is what you get. (‘A watched pot never boils’, is actually proven to be partially true, it’s not never, but it’s slower when you watch it 

).

Where this gets interesting is when you tie these all together, particularly in a talk therapy context (which is obviously the most common type of ‘accepted’ therapy)...

When you spend a lot of time talking in detail about a specific problem, such as a past traumatic event, the QZE determines that the brain neurologically holds the focus on that problem. And the more mental focus that is given, the stronger it physically gets in the brain (LTP).

AND when you bring Hebb’s law into play, this is when people’s problems can get far more complicated...

By focusing on one problem after another, such as multiple separate events, or by focusing on different painful parts of the same problem, such as separate moments within a past traumatic event; Hebb’s Law shows that these can get linked together in the brain to form a far bigger interconnected problem. 

So for example, unpleasant childhood events can get linked to events which occurred in teenage or adult years.

The result being that thinking only about a recent traumatic event can cause feelings or flashbacks/recollection of past childhood trauma to come to mind simultaneously - They become linked in the brain and so they recall each other as one interconnected problem.

For these reasons I believe any therapy approach that’s working to emotionally resolve a problem (like past trauma) should ONLY focus a few seconds on a problem - just enough to activate the neurological network, and then focus heavily on the positive outcome and multiple resource states such as; confidence, happiness, self worth, calmness, safety, etc. 

And the most vital step is then to link those positive resources to the original problems - Hebb’s law.

Neuroscience shows that therapy should focus on the positive outcome, as opposed to the problems of the past.

Unfortunately most traditional talk therapy approaches focus on the problem in an attempt to make positive changes…

Hopefully now you can understand how and why neuroscience can impact the success and timeframe of trauma recovery.

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