How Science Impacts Mental Health

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Science is striving to remove the stigma-like label of soft science from therapy as knowledge and understanding of the brain continues to progress.  Neuroscience, the study of the brain, has caused a shift in thinking among counselors. Research now shows that a client’s brain chemistry must be altered in order for therapy to be effective. This new knowledge requires a change in how we think about mental health, and how treatment is offered.

The conceptualization of mental health becomes more complex as researchers continue to gain knowledge regarding the organization of neural systems, and what impacts the brain’s organization.  It is now known that the human experience is mediated by genetics, and one’s interpersonal relationships.  Additionally, behavior is never random; rather, it is an expression of neural networks that were established through previous learning experiences that have become default behavior.  In other words, everything that we do changes our brain one way or another.  This includes the music we listen to, the food that we eat, and the conversations that we hold.  This new knowledge supports that nature and nurture are co-authors of the human experience, rather than one or the other being the primary influence of someone’s mental health, as was thought in the past.

We now know that neural integration plays a central role in the growth process, and must be the basis of all psychotherapy treatment.  Integration allows for the disconnected systems of the brain to become coherent again and even be reprogrammed1.  The new knowledge that our minds, and it’s neurons, can be altered throughout one’s life is in stark contrast to previous beliefs that mental illness is a permanent state.  Older schools of thought were based on symptom relief, or suppression with a belief that the status of mental illness will last forever.  We now know that the exploration of early memories, evaluation of current relationships, and other traditional elements are a function through which psychotherapy can work to rewire and replace faulty brain wiring.  Accordingly, treatment techniques should be evidence based, and reconstructive.

   In summary, knowledge gained from neuroscience research does not replace previous views and concepts.  Rather, it begins to explain why certain techniques do or do not work during psychotherapy.  It is the ethical and moral obligation of those that work in the field of counseling to continue to challenge what we know and seek deeper knowledge in a never ending quest to provide optimal client care.  

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