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?”).

Compassionate seeing

I was challenging myself yesterday, what do I stand for, in my work and in life?

Compassionate seeing

Care for self and other

Vision and excitement

Breathing into the one-ness of all and lighting with it …

Back to compassionate seeing, I want to explain further …

For me, compassionate seeing helps people unlock the mysteries of their lives.  This is not about “playing nice” or excuses as some tough love proponents might suggest.  It says that once we get there, to wherever that place is where there is stuckness or holding, fear or shut-down, enough compassion will melt it.

I had this demonstrated for me once and this woman continues to inspire my work – for those based in Sydney, I highly recommend Karen Daniels, should you be lucky enough to secure sessions with her for Expressive Therapies.

We can do this for ourselves, of course, this is essential.  And it is amplified when someone holds the field with and for us. Or more than one person. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have experienced this?  Or maybe you haven’t experienced it so much in your life.  So go ahead, close your eyes, imagine what this would feel like.  Paint a vivid picture.

By my late 30’s I had learned a lot about letting go and surrendering into each moment, about being kind and accepting, allowing of myself.  But something happened when she added her seeing to my own.  There was extra focus, more energy, more space, more opening and more movement.

She stayed with the process and I did too – long enough.  Just.  Maybe.  Shit happened.  Through the turmoil and darkness, through intense subtle level experiences and initiations, through physical pain and destitution in life, through crazy alone-ness and awe-filled gratitude for the process that was unfolding within me and through me.

Karen worked in the modality of expressive therapies – this meant utilising art, movement, sound and breathing to deepen into and express inner experience.  What happened as an outcome of all this compassionate seeing, space holding, deepening, accepting and expressing … well I will see how I can share this another day, but for now let’s say it gave me a direct experiencing of Life Force moving through me in a way so rich, so powerful, so tender and so unifying …

I like to hold that space for all the people who come to see me, the possibility of this.  Perhaps even the inevitability of this, under the right conditions.

So this compassionate seeing, it’s not an airy-fairy thing.  In my view and experience it unlocks powerful energy and the direct experiencing of your true self, your divine self, Life in all its fullness.


Below is a link to a 20 min meditation practice, to open into an experience of self-compassion and to use this energy to help heal and bring ease to any aspects of self that may be feeling a little “less than”.  Also an invitation to utilise compassion to open up and support any difficult interpersonal dynamics.