The Brain: our most amazing control center. In 2017, as our knowledge of this organ grows, the ways to enhance brain function and tap into its power to heal, change, and regenerate do too.
What brain based strategies are out there, and how can you use them to better your mental health? We explore three popular methods below.
Mindfulness Meditation (Sample Audience: Veterans with PTSD)
When practiced 30 minutes a day for 6 weeks, mindfulness meditation can measurably change structures of brain related to learning, emotional regulation and introspection. This ancient (yet recently scientifically validated) method is excellent at improving anxiety and depression.
Noticing the positive effects of mindfulness, the US Armed Forces formed “Coping Strategies,” an at-home program designed to combat symptoms of PTSD, such as depression, anger, and feelings of increased stress. Indeed, studies suggest that mindfulness practice results in brain changes in veterans with PTSD, allowing them to better manage the recurring, negative thoughts that are often plague them. The positive effects aren’t just limited to veterans, or even people with PTSD. Mindfulness can be used to treat a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety and mood disorders, and can even decrease daily stress.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (Sample Audience: Grieving Clients)
EMDR has 8 stages, only 3 of which involve eye movements. The first 3 stages serve to identify core issues, teach the client coping skills, and map out how those issues might be desensitized and reprocessed. These stages guide the brain in creating new, healthier neural networks, which control the way our brain responds to those core issues.
While it is most famous for its use in the treatment of PTSD, evidence suggests that EMDR can effectively treat symptoms of grief and loss. As a 2012 study by R.M. Solomon and T. A. Rando noted:
“The death of a loved one can be very distressing, with memories and experiences associated with the loss becoming dysfunctionally stored and preventing access to adaptive information, including positive memories of the deceased. EMDR can be utilized to integrate these distressing experiences and facilitate the assimilation and accommodation of the loss and movement through the mourning processes.”
Thus, EMDR uses neural networks in the brain to treat common human problems
Brainspotting (Sample Audience: Individuals Dealing with Childhood Trauma)
Brainspotting is a relatively new brain-based therapy that involves focusing on one spot at a time to identify mental and emotional “hot spots.” Using these eye spots taps directly into implicit memory networks and can unlock powerful material previously unreachable by traditional verbal approaches.
In “An Inside View on Brainspotting,” writer Katherine Heart describes her own experience with brainspotting. After enduring years of childhood abuse, Katherine suffered from severe depression, anxiety, and flashbacks, with periods of catatonia (a state of motor and behavior immobility and abnormality sometimes known as a ‘stupor’) and tendencies towards self-injury. She experienced multiple hospitalizations, and was told by therapists that she should not “hope for full recovery” and that she was “hard-wired for self-injury.”
Feeling that she’d hit a roadblock with talk therapy, Katherine engaged with Brainspotting. “From the very first time I tried BSP, I noticed that it helped decrease the level of emotional suffering connected to each of the specific traumatic memories that we worked on in therapy. From my perspective, BSP ‘took the trauma out of the memory.’ I no longer felt the pain, upset and distress from those ordeals of years ago.”
While no one form of therapy can be considered a guaranteed “cure all,” it’s clear that Brainspotting (or BSP, as Katherine puts it) can provide much needed relief from past trauma.
Could mindfulness meditation, EMDR, or brainspotting be right for you? We encourage you to continue learning as you follow your wellness journey.