By Teresa D'Amato - Senior Clinical Psychologist MAPS, MACPA, MIACN
Welcome to winter and the middle of the year! I hope the first half of the year has been filled with experiences that have been enjoyable and/or experiences that we can learn and grow from.
I've recently attended the first International Conference of Neuropsychotherapy and pre-conference workshops, held at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital in Brisbane from 23 to 26 May 2017. The conference was brought about from an ever increasing global interest of professionals working from a brain-based perspective. The main theme of the conference was "Neuroscience Research to Applied Practice" and focused on scientific evidence-based research and its practical application in various domains including: psychopathology, resilience, pain, grief and loss, sport and performance maximisation, attachment and development through the lifespan, education and wellness. Leading world renowned experts from Australia, Canada, USA, South Africa, United Kingdom, Singapore, Indonesia and New Zealand addressed the attendees in their specialist field.
Recent Neuroscience research has given us an understanding into the many factors that improve mental health and well-being. Neuropsychotherapy focuses on the neural processes that underpin human responses including memory, thoughts, sensations, behaviors, emotions, and social interactions and it gives guidelines and strategies to address unhelpful functioning in these areas and improve overall wellbeing based on current neuroscience research findings.
The Triune Brain and its survival mode
The brain is comprised of 3 main areas or systems of neural networks (see picture above), which is also called the Triune brain. The 3 neural systems are:
When a person is experiencing stress, sadness, trauma and relationship problems, or is faced with challenges that are becoming increasingly difficult to manage, the brain automatically goes into survival mode and engages in patterns of avoidance and protection (2-1 system). Ongoing activation of the 2-1 system builds strong networks (neural firing) in this area and the onset of pathology and unwellness as the brain becomes trapped in small brain activation instead of whole brain activation. In the 2-1 system a person will feel “stuck” or in a ‘rut”, become unmotivated, difficulty in decision making, self-doubt, socially withdrawn, inability to focus and concentrate, become very tired and lethargic, low self-worth, loss of direction and purpose, catastrophise, ruminate and engage in unhelpful coping mechanisms. (2)
In order to achieve overall wellness and a balanced lifestyle, it is important to activate and enhance the neural firing of the 2-3 system resulting in neural proliferation (thriving response). Ongoing activation (neural firing) of this system enhances patterns of thriving and allows the person to socially engage with others, problem solve, maintain good memory and concentration, ability to plan goals for the future with purpose and direction, motivated, good self-worth and confident in their ability to manage challenges and become resilient. The person is more proactive and engages in more balanced and positive behaviours which promote continued well-being. (3)
Neuropsychotherapy assists, supports and encourages the person to engage in strategies that promote whole brain activation in order to reduce unhelpful negative thought patterns and fear-avoidant behaviours and unwellness which has kept them stuck. The person becomes more empowered and emotionally regulated as they are able to understand the underlying mechanisms and learn skills to improve and manage their symptoms and live a more balanced and fulfilling life.
There was a wide range of topics covered during the conference, that will make a big impact on how we understand and improve mental health:
If you feel you are experiencing negative symptoms and unhelpful behaviours that keep you stuck in a rut and would like to learn practical and achievable strategies to improve your overall well-being, please call Thinkwell Psychology on 6361 1275 or book an appointment online to see Teresa, Maria or Angela for assistance and support.
(1) Kandel, 2007; Grawe, 2007, Schenck, 2011.
(2) & (3) Rossouw, 2014.