My experience with psychotherapy supports the findings that we can “rewire our brains.” In cognitive therapy, I learned to stop negative thoughts and suicidal ideation, rewrite those thoughts and replace them with more accurate ones. In therapy I’ve learned to reframe my life experiences as meaningful – as preparing me to be a better mother, wife, and daughter, and effective mental health advocate. Today I use the skills and insight I’ve gained in psychotherapy and medication to maintain my mental health.
Understanding Causes and the Impact of Therapy
by Tim Wayne for Bradley University Online
As it turns out, the idea that therapy helps us ‘rewire our brains’ may be more literal than we once believed.
Mental illness is often attributed to factors which can seem completely out of our control, like genetics, environmental conditions, and even the physiological differences in our brains. Bipolar disorder, for instance, is associated with biochemical abnormalities and differences in the brain’s structure, including a smaller prefrontal cortex (a part of the brain involved in decision-making.)
While the causes and symptoms are complex and can vary from individual to individual, there is growing evidence that our lifestyle choices can impact how severe the symptoms of bipolar disorder are. Therapy and treatment can reduce symptoms and help us self-regulate. And in fact, they can even physically change our brains due to a principle called neuroplasticity (which is defined in the graphic below.)
Practices such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have been proven in their ability to help patients with bipolar disorder regulate suicidal thoughts and actions. Similarly, others have benefitted in regulating their emotional state through practices like mindfulness meditation and neurofeedback. Essentially, all of these practices help us reduce symptoms by encouraging greater regularity in our emotional and physiological states.
As we learn more about the causes of mental illnesses like bipolar disorder through brain imaging technology, knowledge of how treatment can change the brain can help clinicians use this technology to create and measure the efficacy of treatment plans. This approach to counseling, called neurocounseling, is being studied today as a way to help those with bipolar disorder in addition to a broad range of other conditions like depression, substance abuse, and ADHD.
The infographic below, created for Bradley University’s Online Counseling Program, illustrates what neurocounseling is, how it’s being used to help patients today, and how it may change mental healthcare in the future.