Professor Pieter Rossouw MAPS, Director Master of Counselling Program, School of Psychology at The University of Queensland, says people can be helped to establish new neural (nerve) pathways in the brain to channel new ways of thinking, feeling and being.
He says there has been a significant shift from understanding the brain as a network of permanent neural pathways, to acknowledging that these pathways can change.
He says the development of new, effective neural pathways is promoted with exposure to enriched environments such as talk-based therapies. This is because the brain does not operate in isolation – its networks respond to the environment around us.
Professor Rossouw explains: “nerves continually rearrange themselves throughout the course of life, allowing our brain and nervous system to adapt to an endless number of different situations. This is what makes humans so adaptable.”
“For example, trauma results in the formation of networks of protection and avoidance, whereas positive experiences result in positive networks of approach and growth,” he says.
Professor Rossouw says the implications are significant. “With consistent exposure to enriched environments, old pathways supporting depression and anxiety will become less preferred and eventually deconstruct, resulting in less risk of relapse into old ways of being.”
He says medication can only act on existing neural pathways – it cannot help wiring of new neural connections – and that the future lies with talk-based therapies as a first-line treatment for many psychological disorders.
Professor Rossouw will present recent findings in neuroscience and how these findings shape the future of talking therapies, at the APS Counselling Psychology Conference being held in Melbourne 21–24 February.
(Source: Australian Psychology Society)
For more information on brain health, including the anatomy of the brain, the effects of nutrition and exercise on the brain, and the effect of mental activity on health, see Brain Health.