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Neurotransmitters, talk therapy and creating a healing climate in the brain

I’m  going to a workshop in Brisbane this week facilitated by Pieter Rossouw.  Pieter is the Director of the Master of Counselling Program at the School of Psychology and the School of Social Work and Human Services at The University of Queensland. Through his research and teaching, Pieter has amassed a really helpful level of knowledge and insight into how to work with the brain to best support healing and growth.

There can sometimes be a divide in the medical and therapeutic industry between those who rush to prescribe anti-depressants and those who are “talky-touchy-feely” (or seen this way).

I sit a little to the left of centre on this one, but not all the way. SSRI’s, SNRI’s and the like have their place under certain conditions, but they are usually a long way from the whole answer.

This workshop looks at a bottom up approach to therapy where the first focus goes to down regulation of stress related neurotransmitters and neural structures and up regulation of safety triggers (oxytocin release, healthy attachment, upregulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, increased GABA release), as the foundation for talk therapy. Under these circumstances, talk therapy has been shown to be more specific in the way it impacts neural structure, than chemical interventions.*

Put simply, find ways to reduce stress that don’t rely on “thinking your way out of it” – because clear thinking is limited under stress and limited in an ongoing way with long term stress and trauma. Then find ways to increase your “feel good” chemicals and hormones – this can come from the quality of the therapeutic relationship, lifestyle changes, time in nature, natural supplements, rhythmic activity (dancing, drumming, music) healing touch, spiritual connection and anything that creates a sense of safe belonging and care.

From this point, you are much more likely to be able to take full advantage of your cognitive abilities to support change and maybe a little less likely to need them!

* (Kumari, 2006 “Do psychotherapies produce neurological effects?”).