Did you know that you have the ability to remodel your brain? Our behaviors, thought patterns, responses, habits, etc. are not set in stone. You, me, each of us has the capability and the opportunity to transform our brains.
It was not that long ago that the brain was thought to be unchangeable across an individual’s life. It was believed that each person had a set number of brain cells and neural circuits and, once these were lost, there was nothing the person could do to regain or restore this lost brain power and function. Thankfully, as we have learned more about how the brain works, we have discovered that it is possible to alter the structure and function of the brain at any point during the lifespan.
Through learning, practice, and repetition, the brain can develop new neural networks, or pathways of responding, allowing an individual to learn or train their brain to think and respond differently to internal and external stimulus. The brain’s ability to change and rewire itself is called neuroplasticity. The functioning of our brains is based upon learned experiences throughout our lifespan. Our patterns of thinking and responding are developed based on life experiences. Your life experiences have formed your brain’s neural pathways, which directly impacts your thoughts, beliefs about yourself, and responses to the world around you. Our brains are wiring and rewiring on a daily basis in response to our interactions with our environments. However, the ability to rewire our brains is something we can actively encourage and impact through intentional focus and practice.
Impacting Healthy Brain Development (Neuroplasticity)
In the book Neurocounseling, Field, Jones, and Russell-Chapin (2017) discuss several ways in which we have the ability to positively impact our brain development and wiring. Exercise, sleep, nutrition, and positive social engagement are just a few ways in which each of us can encourage healthy brain development and foster neuroplasticity.
Not only does exercise benefit physical and cardiovascular health, exercise also promotes neurological, cognitive, and overall mental health. Implementing regular exercise is a great way to promote healthy and positive neuroplasticity.
Getting adequate sleep fosters neuroplasticity by allowing the brain to recover from the day by consolidating learning and memory processing. Sleep serves as an opportunity for the brain to restore and recover from the activities of the day.
There is a direct connection between the gut and the brain, because of this, we now know that the foods we eat have a direct impact on brain development and functioning. Eating a healthy diet optimizes the production of neurotransmitters and assistances neural regulation.
There are many benefits to engaging in social activity and having friends. A key benefit of engaging in social wellness is that it activates circuitry in the brain, which has a direct impact on brain structure and neuroplasticity.
Therapy and Neuroplasticity
Counseling helps an individual re-story past experiences and develop new connections, behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and meanings about themselves and their experiences (Field et al., 2017). The counseling relationship has the potential to strengthen existing neural connections and build new neural networks. Through partnership and collaboration with a therapist, a person can impact long-term memory in significant ways and help the brain to build new neural networks through neuroplasticity (Field et al., 2017). When we learn a new skill, repeatedly practice a new behavior, or access memories, our neural networks fire in concert, creating new neural connections and pathways (neuroplasticity), which shapes long-term memories and new patterns of behavior (Field et al., 2017). A trained therapist can empower their clients, can empower you, to develop new ways of thinking and foster neuroplasticity through development of new skills, coping strategies, and new ways of thinking and viewing the world.
It is important to remember that only so much can be accomplished during a counseling session. Real change occurs during the time spent between sessions, when you can actively practice and implement, into your everyday life, the different techniques, responses, ways of thinking, skills, and coping strategies discussed during a counseling session. By working with a therapist with whom you feel comfortable, establishing common goals with the therapist, and taking ownership for your mental health by activity engaging in new and healthy behaviors between counseling sessions, you have the power and ability to remodel and change your brain.
The clinicians at Collaborative Counseling and Psychiatry are here to empower you to develop new and healthy ways to respond to internal and external stimulus through learning and practice. Our clinicians can help teach you effective skills and coping strategies to help you re-story your experiences, build resilience and increase your ability to deal with life stressors. Please call (847)440-2281 if you would like to schedule with one of our clinicians.
You Have the Power to Change Your Brain
Jeremy Phelps, M.A., LPC
The Center for Collaborative Counseling and Psychiatry
Field, T. A., Jones, L. K., & Russell-Chapin, L. A. (2017). Neurocounseling: Brain-based clinical approaches. American Counseling Association.