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Uncovering the Source of Suicidality with Brain Science

Are Serotonin Levels the Key Factor in Suicidal Depression?

Charles Barber

I'm at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in northern Manhattan. My guide, Victoria, has been studying the brains of people who committed suicide, and has discovered that the biochemistry of their brains differs significantly from that of people who don't commit suicide. But there are aspects of their work that trouble me. Could our brains be so sick that they'll kill us? How much do our brain chemicals control our lives, and what control is left to us?

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The Merits of Applying Brain Science in Therapy

Using the Brain to Explain Fear and Anxiety Objectively

Louis Cozolino

The aspects of our brains that evolved 50,000 years ago—which give us astonishing powers of thought, logic, imagination, empathy, and morality—also share skull space with the ancient brain equipment that we've inherited from our mammalian and reptilian forebears over the past several million years, including the neural circuitry involved in fear and anxiety. Some therapists bristle at the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy, calling it irrelevant or reductionistic. But information about the brain and how it evolved helps us communicate with clients about their problems in an objective and non-shaming manner. It's hard to grasp how the brain could be irrelevant to changing the mind.

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A Brain Science Approach to Couples Therapy

Using Brain Science in Therapy to Alter Mood States

Brent Atkinson

When clients become upset, they're in the grip of one of seven major body-brain mood states, also referred to as "executive operating systems." These are more than just passing moods. They're complex neurochemical cascades, in which hormones race through the body and brain and electrical impulses fly over familiar neural synapses, shaping what we feel, do, and think. This hormonal cascade can be lifesaving in the appropriate situation---in the face of a dangerous driver, say, or a possible mugger or rapist. But in intimate relationships, it's often toxic. In my work as a couples therapist, I train my clients to reactivate the neocortex---the inner switchmaster---in the face of strong emotion.

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The Fiction of the Self

The Paradox of Mindfulness in Clinical Practice

Ronald Siegel

What if our therapeutic goals of improving self-esteem, developing a stable and coherent sense of self, and identifying and expressing genuine, authentic feelings all turn out to be symptoms of delusion? If we engage in meditation long enough, we discover that our sense of being a separate, coherent, enduring self is actually a delusion maintained by our constant inner chatter. Seeing ourselves in this light can pull the rug out from under us in alarming—though potentially liberating—ways.

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Dealing with Trauma Anxiety on the Spot

The Mechanics of Fight-or-Flight Responses in Trauma Clients

Babette Rothschild

My approach to trauma work is rooted in an experience I had in college. A friend asked me to teach her to drive---in a new car my father had just given me. Sitting in the passenger seat next to her as she prepared to turn on the ignition, I suddenly panicked. I quickly realized that before I taught her how to make that powerful machine go, I had to make sure that she knew how to put on the brakes. I apply the same principle to therapy, especially trauma therapy.

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Empathy Becomes a Physical Force

The Wonders of Engaging Mirror Neurons in Therapy

Babette Rothschild

Empathy is the connective tissue of good therapy. It's what enables us to establish bonds of trust with clients, and to meet them with our hearts as well as our minds. Empathy enhances our insights, sharpens our hunches, and, at times, seems to allow us to "read" a client's mind. I first recognized the physical force of empathy as a college student. When I copied the swaggering gait of a cocky young man, for example, I'd momentarily feel more confident---even happier---than before. I found this secret street life fascinating and fun, but I didn't think much about it until a few years later, when I started practicing clinical social work.

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Mirror Mirror

Emotion in the Consulting Room is More Contagious Than We Thought

Babette Rothschild

Far from the therapy office, in the precisely measured environment of the research lab, brain scientists are discovering that a particular cluster of our neurons is specifically designed and primed to mirror another's bodily responses and emotions. We're hardwired, it appears, to feel each other's happiness and pain--more deeply than we ever knew. Moreover, the royal road to empathy is through the body, not the mind. Notwithstanding the river of words that flow through the therapy room, it's the sight of a client looking unhappy, or tense, or relieved, or enraged, that really gets our sympathetic synapses firing.

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Applying the Brakes

In Trauma Treatment, Safety is Essential

Babette Rothschild

My approach to trauma work is rooted in an experience I had in college. A friend asked me to teach her to drive--in a new car my father had just given me. Sitting in the passenger seat next to her as she prepared to turn on the ignition, I suddenly panicked. I quickly realized that before I taught her how to make that powerful machine go, I had to make sure that she knew how to put on the brakes. I apply the same principle to therapy, especially trauma therapy. I never help clients call forth traumatic memories unless I and my clients are confident that the flow of their anxiety, emotion, memories, and body sensations can be contained at will.

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The Power of Mental Rehearsal

Learning to Strengthen Brain Circuits

Brent Atkinson

In his recent Networker article “The Great Deception,” psychologist Brent Atkinson, author of Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy: Advances from Neurobiology and the Science of Intimate Relationships, explains the power of mental rehearsal and what this means for your clients.

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Understand Brain Science Without Being a Neuroscientist

Interviews with Norman Doidge and Stephen Porges

Mary Sykes Wylie

How can therapists acquire the knowledge of how the brain works without becoming brain scientists themselves? Even more pressing, what real-life practical therapeutic implications, if any, can truly be drawn from neuroscience?

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