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How does therapy work?

Therapy is a treatment process that uses specialized techniques of caring that have been designed to offer effective, long-lasting help for people suffering from a wide range of difficulties, such as emotional distress, anxiety, marital strife, fears, a significant loss, or a clinical disorder. Therapy can also help fulfill aspirations for personal growth or self-improvement.

We know from neuroscience and attachment research that interpersonal relationships profoundly affect the physical structures and processes of the brain. We affect each other’s moods and motions, rewiring each other’s neural networks. Therapy works primarily as a nervous-system-to-nervous system regulator (like mother to child), that helps client ramp down their own brain’s arousal levels and reactivity, as well as activate their neural capacity for regulating their own emotions.

The latest findings of brain science show the way the human brain needs to be in concert with other human brains for its process of self-renewal and self-creation. That is why therapy is at its root a brain-changing relationship, says John Arden, PhD and Lloyd Linford, PhD. coauthors of the Brain-Based Therapy book series. Different from the animal kingdom the human brain needs and desire for dependence on relationships with others of our kind. We write “brain” as a singular, but in a real sense there’s no such a thing as one, single brain – only brains and nervous systems in some sort of relationship to one another.

That is why psychotherapy changes your brain in an organic way. We are born in relationships and we can’t exist otherwise. Our brains get wired as babies in relationship with our caregivers via stimulation one-and-one and that is exactly what gets replicated in therapy. It has been proofed that the therapeutic experience itself can generate new synaptic connections to create new neural networks in the brain. As people discover new ways to think and behave when feeling troubled, within a routine of safe encounters, we keep finding/repeating the basic truth of the neurobiological principle that “what fires together, wires together.”  So what we do in therapy is brain-based therapy, which is a kind of neurobiological athletics. In therapy you can learn to understand your brain, and train yourself to use it more effectively. I help you rewire your brain and therefore change your life in therapy; it isn’t just a simple talk. This meta-perspective help me evaluate which approaches work best with a particular client at a particular point in therapy to resolve a particular symptom or difficulty by activating a particular brain process. In this way I integrate a variety of new and old models as it becomes more apparent that what ultimately counts is what changes the brain.

This also explains why pure insight or self-help books don’t cause long-lasting changes. People need the experiential retrieval of emotions and the support of a caring, non-judgmental and safe relationship for change to happen. That being said, I believe side readings and homework assignments are great complements of the therapeutic alliance but can’t do much when used in isolation. The therapist, counselor psychologist __or however you call us__ is trained to provide you with the specific requirements that change needs to happen. The therapist knows and uses the brain’s rules for change and helps you learn and practice them in the therapeutic environment. It is a science and an art and a good therapist would know how and when to use each aspect of it. Therapy is at its root a brain-changing relationship, so give yourself the chance to experience how this miracle works.

Counseling as a science:

Counseling psychotherapy is a science because through the integration of theory, research, and practice, encompasses a broad range of methods that help people improve their well-being, alleviate distress and maladjustment, resolve crises, and increase their ability to live more highly functioning lives.

Therapy translates cutting-edge neuroscience into practice to facilitate personal and interpersonal functioning across the life span with a focus on emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental, and organizational concerns. Counseling is unique in its attention both to normal developmental issues and to problems associated with physical, emotional, and mental disorders.

Counseling as an Art:

Counseling psychotherapy is an art because the human being is unique and its experiences different. Therefore, the therapist needs to adjust his or her knowledge to the specific situation in the right moment and in the right way. It is not just a matter of applying psychological concepts as you would follow a recipe on a cooking book. It just doesn’t work that way. The therapist adjusts to each person’s needs, experiences, momentum, and style. According to this she delivers and treats a similar problem in many different ways. This is the main aspect that differentiates therapists.