Psychotherapy with the Brain in Mind
Psychotherapy with the
Brain in Mind
I’m a psychologist and a neuropsychologist, and I bring that broader and deeper perspective to our work together.
Here’s why I think that’s important for effective psychotherapy.
A better-integrated brain supports a better life
I’m thrilled to see the increasing amount of research and media attention on neuroplasticity in the adult human brain. (Neuroplasticity = the changes that occur in the structure and organization of the brain as a result of experience.)
Your brain has the capacity to grow new neurons, connections, and pathways throughout your entire lifespan. That’s contrary to what had been the “law” in neurology for decades (basically, once you hit your early 20s, it was all downhill from there, brain-wise).
We also know that in the brain, what fires together, wires together. Not only does your brain have an impact on your behavior, thoughts, and experience, but your experience, thoughts and behavior have an impact on your brain — literally. We can see it in imaging studies of the brain.
…which boils down to this:
Whatever you ask your brain to do the most, that’s where it sends the highway funds. Those old habits of mind; the things you do and think on “autopilot”; all of your experiences and responses and thoughts – all of them keep reinforcing themselves and building better, faster highways in your brain, unless you work to change them.
Psychotherapy with the brain in mind can help you better integrate your brain. You can harness neuroplasticity to develop new and better routes, changing your old, unhelpful superhighways into roads less traveled.
Here are seven healthy qualities of a better-integrated brain:
1. Better management of your body’s reactions to emotions
The state of your body is connected to your state of mind, through your brain. It’s also true in the other direction: your state of mind is connected to your body state. The less aware you are of what’s going on in your body, and the more it just “does its thing” unchecked, the more likely that your basic, primitive, reflexive body states are going to be running the emotional show.
2. Improved regulation of fear
If I were perfectly concise and accurate, “fear” would be the sum total of my response to the question “What do you specialize in as a psychotherapist?” When you get right down to it, that’s what we’re all dealing with, in one way or another. Fear, fear of fear, fear of conflict, fear of being alone, fear of getting too close, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of dying, fear of really living . . . It’s our most fundamental (and arguably most powerful) emotion, so it’s one to keep an eye on and learn to regulate.
3. Greater emotional resilience
The idea isn’t to get rid of your emotions or squash them down. Anger, fear, sadness—in fact, all your emotions—serve important purposes. They’re a vital, necessary part of being a human. If we learn how to keep them from running our lives, the benefits and aliveness of experiencing them are like the difference between living in black and white versus Technicolor.
As Richard Davidson, PhD, put it, “Negative emotion is one which persists beyond the time it is useful. [Resilience] means it doesn’t persist, and that you can return to baseline.”
4. Increased response flexibility
It’s all about choice. And being able to make good, life-enhancing choices, instead of knee-jerk reactions, means you need to have a moment to give yourself a chance to make a choice. Psychotherapy with the brain in mind can help you give your brain the ability to choose to respond more mindfully.
- Prevent your body and your primitive fear from driving you into a reflexive emotional ditch (or worse)
- Consciously assess the incoming information and recover with resilience from emotional misfiring
- Give your brain the chance it needs to kick it up a notch and choose from a broader, healthier array of potential responses.
5. Improved insight (self-knowing)
I sometimes use a cluttered, dimly-lit attic as a metaphor for aspects of your brain and your experiences.
How did I get here? Why do I keep feeling/thinking/responding/behaving this way? Getting to know and understand yourself in a real way, looking beyond the surface level of your actions and your thoughts, gives you an internal attic “work light.” You get to understand what the buried thoughts and stories are that silently guide you (and sometimes shove you around) in how you think of your “self” and others.
You’re then far less vulnerable to getting lost in the dark, tripping over dusty boxes—or even falling through the ceiling—when it comes to being in relationship with others.
6. Healthier, more balanced empathy—within yourself and with others
Being empathic isn’t about being an all-absorbing antenna, a doormat, a mind reader, and/or an emotional rescuer. It’s also not about fear (as in the fear of being alone, having someone be mad at you, disappointing someone, and so on). Being able to understand another person’s state of mind is essential for connecting with others, but being able to do so without losing your awareness of your own state of mind is vitally important. It’s also something that psychotherapy can help you develop and grow.
7. Perspective shift from “me” to “we”
Interdependence and connection – and authentic relationships – are acts of bravery. Sometimes, people come to psychotherapy so they’ll no longer feel insecure or dependent on others –- to feel less vulnerable. The beautiful irony is that psychotherapy can help you feel more comfortable with being vulnerable, allowing yourself to connect with others better, and be both more sensitive and more resilient.
Ready to meet? I look forward to hearing from you.Contact Me
Marsha Lucas, PhD – Psychologist
1350 Connecticut Ave NW, at Dupont Circle
Washington DC 20036