Imagine for a second that you’ve been feeling really down in the dumps and depressed recently. You’ve felt sad, empty and hopeless. You’ve lost pleasure in doing the activities you once enjoyed. You struggle to get out bed most days and have little to no energy throughout the day. All of these symptoms have been interfering with your work and life in general, and you feel like a failure. You feel shame because it doesn’t feel normal to feel this way and you think no one could possibly understand. Your friend suggests you seek out help from a mental health professional. You’ve never gone before and aren’t sure what to expect. Now imagine you're sitting with your therapist and the therapist takes the time to discuss with you about your symptoms, and about how what you’re experiencing is a real illness, known as depression. Your therapist also talks to you about what is known as the cognitive model and describes how your thoughts, feelings and behaviors are constantly interacting and influencing one another. How the way you interpret or think about a situation determines how you will feel about it and further how you will react. Your therapist further explains to you that by using the cognitive model, you can focus on changing your maladaptive thought patterns and behavioral patterns. Additionally, the therapist explains how you can learn how to identify, evaluate and respond to your own ways of negative thinking and patterns of unhelpful behavior that may be contributing to your depression. This is known as psychoeducation.
What if your therapist also took the time to educate you about your brain or more specifically, your nervous system? What if your therapist described to you how your brain controls your behavior? Or how your brain regulates and controls your thoughts like “I’m a failure,” or your emotions such as sadness. Lastly, what if your therapist educated you about how your brain responds to things such as mental illness or trauma. This is known as neuroscience.
Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system—how it develops, the structure of it and largely, what it does. Neuroscience seeks to understand how the brain controls human behavior, thinking and emotions. Beyond that, neuroscience seeks to understand how the brain responds to physical or mental illness, trauma and substance abuse.
Mental health professionals use a variety of evidence-based models of intervention to accomplish their work with clients. The model of intervention chosen by the mental health professional depends entirely on the individual needs, goals, problems and diagnoses of the client. An integral part of these evidence-based models of intervention is psychoeducation, which seeks to provide the client with knowledge regarding their diagnoses as well as a better understanding about the treatment process. Most often people with a mental health concerns may feel shame or feel as if what they are experiencing is not normal. This is due to the stigmatization that has surrounded mental illness for ages. Psychoeducation provides a space in which an individual who has been diagnosed with a mental health condition can understand what their diagnoses means. When an individual is able to understand their diagnoses, they are likely to see their condition and problems as treatable, rather than shameful and out of the norm.
If neuroscience seeks to understand these very aspects of human brain structure, function and development, what could that look like if we could merge them together? How much more would an individual be able to understand why they do what they do, think how they think, and feel the emotions that they feel.
One of the most powerful words for someone to hear is the knowledge that they are not alone. How much more powerful is the knowledge of neuroscience, further elucidating that you are not alone? How much more could clients benefit from understanding how their problems are influenced by the brain and how their brain controls everything they do, hear and think? For example, a client dealing with anxiety may benefit from understanding that when they feel anxious there is a part of their brain known as the amygdala, that is overactive. Similarly, someone who is depressed may find it beneficial to understand how the chemicals in their brain may have imbalances. How much hope could be offered through the understanding of how the brain can literally alter its structure and chemistry in response to our life experiences and essentially rewire itself through a relevant discovery of neuroscience known as neuroplasticity?
“... neuroscience provides the science that supports the use of techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, that harness the brain’s amazing neuroplasticity to form new neural pathways to replace and extinguish unhelpful and harmful thinking and behavioral patterns. (Shebib, 2017)”
Merging neuroscience and models of intervention for psychoeducation could help clients to gain a better, wholistic picture of themselves, their emotions, behavior, and problems. Gaining a comprehensive understanding of ourselves and our brains not only offers hope but can also guide us in normalizing mental illness by deepening awareness regarding how our brains respond to mental illness and continue to alter and rewire throughout the lifespan.
To check out more about models of intervention offered at peace of time wellness check out our treatment modalities page.