The term neurocounseling refers to a form of therapies that seek to take advantage of the relatively recent neuroscientific discovery that the human brain has far more NEUROPLASTICITY than was previously believed to be the case.
What Is Neuroplasticity?
The brain’s quality of neuroplasticity can be defined as its capacity to be physically changed, not only during childhood, but over the whole life-span ; it is only relatively recently that the extent to which the adult brain can be physically altered (both in terms of its structure and its pattern of neuro-pathways) has been discovered.
Why Is The Brain’s Neuroplasticity, And Therefore Neurocounseling, Relevant To The Treatment Of Complex-PTSD Resulting From Childhood Trauma?
Neurocounseling and the phenomenon of neuroplasticity have important implications for the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex-PTSD as sufferers of both types often have incurred damage to certain brain regions as a result of their traumatic experiences.
These brain injuries can include a shrunken hippocampus ( the hippocampus is a brain region involved in the processing of memories, including differentiation between past and present memories); increased activity in the amygadala ( a region of the brain involved in the processing of emotions and that is intimately related to the fear response); and a shrunken ventromedial prefrontal cortex (this region of the brain processes negative emotions that occur in response to exposure to specific stimuli).
Neurocounseling is founded upon the premise that that symptoms of psychiatric conditions (both psychological and behavioral) are underpinned by maladaptive, neurological structures and functions and that these neurological structures and functions can be beneficial altered due to the quality of the brain known as neuroplasticity. It combines neuroscience with counseling techniques and, in this way, the individual receiving treatment is helped to learn new skills and new ways of thinking in an attempt to help correct the maladaptive physical development of the brain that has occurred in response to the person’s traumatic past experiences. Examples of neurocounseling techniques include :
- incorporating biofeedback into the treatment plan ; this can help to treat emotional dysregulation – emotional dysregulation is a major symptom of PTSD and complex-PTSD and is linked to damage to the amygdala (see above)
- incorporating neurofeedback into the treatment plan
- mindfulness meditation training (one study found that this can alter the actual physical structure of the brain in just eight weeks)
Additionally, studies have shown that interpersonal psychotherapy and compassion focused therapy can lead to beneficial alterations to the brain.
Furthermore, research shows that neurocounseling can also be successfully employed to treat a range of addiction issues (including prevention of relapse and recovery management), sleep difficulties, ADHD, chronic fatigue syndrome and problems relating to aggression (all of which, potentially, can be linked to childhood trauma).
As understanding of the relationship between the way in which the physical brain operates and symptoms of psychological problems increases, it should be possible, in the future, to be apply neurocounseling more effectively to an expanding range of behavioral and psychological difficulties that have their roots in maladaptive brain biochemistry and physiology.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).