Tag Archives: Brain In Human

Recovery: How the Brain can ‘Rewire’ Itself (Neuroplasticity).

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Severe childhood trauma can adversely affect the way in which the brain develops, leading to, for example, extremes in anxiety or great difficulty in controlling emotions. However, there has been exciting research conducted showing that the brain is able, under certain conditions, to ‘rewire’ itself, correcting its own faulty circuitry, and, thus, alleviating the behavioral and emotional problems caused by the original damage.

The adult brain is much more changeable and modifiable than had previously been believed. There is now a large amount of evidence to show that damaged neural (brain) circuitry resulting from severe childhood trauma can be corrected, reshaping our brain anatomy and consequent behavior, with the right kind of therapeutic interventions. In other words, it is now clear that brain architecture continues to change throughout adulthood and this can be manipulated in highly beneficial directions.

Many people who suffer extreme childhood trauma go on to develop personality disorders as adults; one hallmark of these disorders is rigid, destructive behavioural patterns. Research is now showing, however, that certain therapeutic interventions, due to neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change itself), can change those behaviours to become more flexible and adaptive (helpful in creating a more successful life).

Another problem those who have suffered extreme childhood trauma  develop later on is extreme and obsessive worry which can be so severe it is pathologically categorized as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For the purposes of explaining how neuroplasticity works, let’s take that (ie OCD) as our example of a problem which needs to be alleviated.

With OCD, obsessive worries can become so extreme that the person experiencing them becomes actively suicidal. Such a tortured state of mind can persist for months or even (as in my own case) years. Indeed, one suicide attempt nearly killed me and I even underwent electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) — to no avail, most regretably .When anxiety is this pathological, medications may dampen the symptoms somewhat, but, this, of course, fails to address the root psychological cause of the problem.

With this kind of anxiety, terrible and terrifying events are unremittingly anticipated – whether these are largely imagined or not is not the point : the problem is that the threats FEEL real. When something truly appalling is even remotely possible, in the mind of the individual experiencing obsessional anxiety, it FEELS INEVITABLE.

Neuroplasticity-Based Treatment :

In order to address such life-threatening (due to risk of suicide) conditions, the psychologist Jeffrey Schwartz has developed a NEUROPLASTICITY-BASED TREATMENT; it has already yielded excitingly successful results.

To understand his form of treatment, let’s first examine the theory of why those suffering from OCD become mentally fixated on their intense anxieties.

Schwartz, first of all, compared the brains of those who suffered from OCD with the brains of those who did not (by taking scans). After he delivered his form of psychotherapy, he took the scans again which revealed the brains of the patients had normalized.

In ‘normal’ people, when something goes wrong, there is a period of anxiety which gradually wears off. However, with OCD sufferers, the period of anxiety is not only much more intense but also maintains an iron mental grip on the sufferer – the individual becomes ‘stuck’ in this intense anxiety phase. So what is going on in neurological terms?

Schwartz generously enlightened us in the following manner :

1) When something anxiety inducing occurs, a region of the brain, known as the ORBITAL FRONTAL CORTEX, is alerted. Activity in this region of the brain is far greater in those who suffer OCD – it becomes HYPERACTIVE.

2) A chemical message is then sent from that brain region to another brain region – the CINGULATE GYRUS, triggering the anxiety response. IN PEOPLE WITH OCD, the activity here is, again, far more than normally intense. Crucially, too, in people with OCD, the intense activity in this brain region STAYS ‘LOCKED ON’ (as if the ‘ON SWITCH’ which has activated it CANNOT BE ‘SWITCHED OFF’). Indeed, Schwartz referred to this phenomenon as ‘BRAIN LOCK’. (In ‘normal’ individuals the activity in the stimulated brain regions gently fades away, as the brain designed it to do).

The treatment Schwartz developed is designed to ‘UNLOCK’, and normalize, the manner in which the brain’s circuitry works.

THE FIRST STEP in the therapy is for the OCD sufferer to RELABEL what s/he is experiencing AS A SYMPTOM OF HIS/HER OCD. S/he should remind him/herself that it is ‘just’ the neurological malfunctioning (the ‘brainlock’) which is the true cause of his/her discomfort, NOT the content of the anxiety itself. This relabeling provides some mental distance from the content of the obsessive concern. The more the person can concentrate on the physiological reasons for the feeling of distress, and the more s/he can distance her/himself from its actual content, the more effective the therapy tends to be.

Once this has been acknowledged, THE SECOND STEP is to REFOCUS THE ATTENTION ON SOMETHING POSITIVE and, ideally, pleasure-inducing.

As the person gets better at implementing these steps, new brain circuits start to develop : the obsessive circuits begin to be bypassed. Of course, changes do not materialize instantaneously – the brain takes time to ‘rewire’ itself.

If the person finds implementing the above two steps difficult to do, s/he should remind him/herself that even distancing him/herself from the content of the anxiety and doing something pleasurable instead for just one minute will help develop the beneficial new brain circuitry.

Two rather pithy sayings, often quoted by psychologists, help us to remember the theory behind the therapy :

– ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’

– ‘neurons that fire apart, wire apart’

To end this post with an encouraging statistic, it is worth recording that 80% of Schwartz’s patients got better when this therapy was combined with medication.

 

EBOOK :

 

Above eBooks now available on Amazon for immediate download.CLICK HERE.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Neuroscience: An Introduction to The Science of the Brain.

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My fascination with neuroscience (the science of the working of the brain) stemmed from two key, fundamental questions about what it means to be human; in fact, I never cease to be amazed as to why these two questions do not appear to be of much interest to the majority of individuals, at least in the UK.

1) The first concerns THE QUESTION OF FREE WILL which is, essentially, this:

If we are, essentially, our brains (ie it is just the brain that produces the experience of self, decision making, emotions etc) and given that the brain is a PURELY PHYSICAL ENTITY, subject, like all physical objects, to the LAWS OF PHYSICS, can we, in any true and meaningful sense, be said to possess free will? Or is everything we are, do and feel determined by the aforementioned laws of physics. If not, by what mechanism are our brains exempt from these laws?

You may be surprised to hear, as this, to most people, sounds utterly COUNTER-INTUITIVE, that the majority of neuroscientists believe that, in fact, the sense we have of free-will is simply an illusion and that there is no central, controlling entity we call self – no ‘ghost-in-the-machine’.

2) WHAT IS CONSCIOUSNESS? This question is, of course, inextricably linked with the question of free will. It runs like this:

Most of us are agreed that the brain is ‘just’ a lump of physical matter (albeit the most complex entity so far discovered in the universe). But somehow, (and neuoroscientists are not at all close to solving this ultimate riddle) this lump of physical matter gives rise to CONSCIOUS EXPERIENCE, including, for example, seeing the colour red, appreciating a Beethoven symphony, or falling in love. We know why these abilities arose (from an evolutionary perspective), but, in truth, have virtually no idea how the consciousness we use to perform them, in itself, came into existence.

Whether neuroscience will ever solve these questions is not known; it is possible human intelligence has not, and never will, evolve sufficiently
to answer them; the answer may involve concepts we can’t even imagine.

Maybe the answer will come someday, but don’t hold your breath.

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Above eBooks now available on Amazon for immediate download. $4.99 each (except for Workbook, priced at $9.99). CLICK HERE.

Best wishes, David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Serotonin And Childhood Trauma

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As we have seen from other articles that I have previously published on this site, neurological problems resulting from childhood trauma can be reversed, and it is to the research into this exciting and fast developing area of study that I now turn.

Studies have shown that because SEROTONIN (a chemical, also known as a neurotransmitter, in the brain) can become depleted by childhood trauma, ANTI-DEPRESSANTS (for example, Setraline) which increase the availability of serotonin in the brain can help to REVERSE the harmful effects of childhood trauma on it.

However, the beneficial effects of anti-depressant treatment is greatly increased if, in addition, the childhood trauma survivor’s ENVIRONMENT is also significantly improved, providing as many positive experiences as possible. Indeed, positive experiences can BENEFICIALLY AFFECT BRAIN CHEMISTRY (for example,  by increasing the availability of serotonin and other important neurotransmitters in the brain), just as anti-depressants can.

serotonin

So: brain chemistry can be affected by environmental factors, as well as by medication.

Because survivors of childhood trauma often FEEL OVERWHELMED BY THEIR EMOTIONS, studies have been conducted which also show that activities that discharge these emotions in a creative or constructive manner can also change brain chemistry for the better. Examples include drawing, painting, writing or even undertaking exercises such as hitting a punch bag at the gym.

In addition to human studies, there have also been some studies on animals. There is now a growing body of evidence that new experiences can regenerate animals’ brain cells. Studies in this area are likely to be conducted on humans in the near future.

Because many of these studies are new, their implications have not yet been fully taken advantage of in the construction of treatment programs. Indeed, it is estimated that fewer than 10% of childhood trauma survivors are receiving appropriate therapeutic interventions.

The exciting conclusion that we are able to draw from all of the above is that there is now good evidence that even if the brain has undergone neurological damage as a result of childhood trauma, this CAN BE REVERSED due to the fact that THE BRAIN CONTINUES TO CHANGE THROUGHOUT LIFE.

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Above eBook available for immediate download at Amazon. CLICK HERE

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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