Rewiring Your Brain & Neuroplasticity

I love learning about the brain, and especially brain-wiring patterns, early on, and throughout the lifespan. My work as a psychotherapist and student of psychology has become really exciting as the data begins to flow and we learn that certain types of therapy can actually facilitate this process. What is your emotional style, and is it possible to transform your emotional life through such practices as mindfulness, DBT and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? You may remember from science class (or not!) that the prefrontal cortex is the seat of reason, judgment, planning and other executive functions. Perhaps you also remember that emotions originate in the primitive, lesser evolved area of the brain know as the amygdala, or more broadly, the limbic system. (The amygdala is responsible for fight-or-flight stress responses and negative emotions among other things). Research now shows us that the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala are more connected than previously thought owing to a large bundle of neurons running between certain regions of the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. “The more axons you have connecting one neuron to another between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, the more resilient you likely are. The less of the 'white matter' -- that is, the fewer the highways leading from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala -- the less resilient you are.” What this means is that you strengthen the neuronal highways between the prefrontal cortex (especially the left region) and the amygdala to improve your emotional style, resilience, mood and depression by using mental practices that promote neuroplasticity. 

If you're interested in learning about strengthening connections between neurons (neuroplasticity) and the neurobiology of emotions and resilience, enjoy this Newsweek article,  The New Science of Feelings which is based on Dr. Davidson's research and book The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., and Sharon Begley. AlsoTired of Feeling Bad? The New Science of Feelings Can Help. Hungry for more brain food? You might enjoy researching Donald Hebb, the Canadian neuropsychologist who wrote what has become known as Hebb’s axiom: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Each experience we encounter, whether a feeling, a thought, a sensation -- and especially those that we are not aware of -- is embedded in thousands of neurons that form a network (“net”). Repeated experiences become increasingly embedded in this net, making it easier for the neurons to fire (respond to the experience), and more difficult to unwire or rewire them to respond differently. 

Kimberly Seelbrede, LCSW is a New York City Therapist + Coach with a private practice in Manhattan.