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A decade and half after the first serious attempts to see the connection between neuroscience and therapy, we've learned that the more we study the human brain, the more profoundly and even mysteriously human we seem. We're discovering that all the technical means that once were presented, one after the other, as having revolutionary possibilities for curing emotional maladies—strict diagnostic categorization, neurosurgery, electroshock, drugs, behavioral methods—massively underestimated both the brain's power and its resistance to simplistic answers to complex human issues. In fact, we're discovering that far from reducing the human "self" to a kind of neurobiological terrarium as was originally feared, brain science is demonstrating that the stuff between our ears is even more distinctive and awe-inspiring than we thought.
Perhaps the most astonishing finding of brain science—something we never anticipated—is the way the human brain, in concert with other human brains, is constantly in the process of self-renewal and self-creation. Through a combination of genetics, developmental history, social and economic circumstances, relationships, and our own conscious, unscripted efforts, we're both determined and self-determining. The most critical, indispensable element in this multidetermined/self-determining brain-building process seems to be something that, to varying degrees, we share with other mammals, but have taken much farther than our evolutionary cousins in the animal world: the brain's need and desire for dependence on relationships with others of our kind. We write "brain" as a singular, but in a real sense there's no such thing as one, single brain—only brains and nervous systems in some sort of relationship to one another.
Therapy is at its root a brain-changing relationship, and we're just at the beginning of a new phase of development within our field in which that realization is becoming more specific, concrete, and grounded in the ever-increasing knowledge base of neuroscience. We're coming to recognize that, as therapists, we've always been "brain scientists"—we just never had the tools, the words, and the concepts to articulate it before.
Lloyd Linford, Ph.D., is director of Psychiatry and Chemical Dependency Best Practices for Kaiser Permanente's Northern California healthcare system and chair of Kaiser's annual psychiatry conference. He's the coauthor of the Brain-Based Therapy book series and editor of more than 30 other volumes. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Arden, Ph.D., is the director of training in the Mental Health Division of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Centers, Northern California Region. He's the coauthor of the Brain-Based Therapy book series. Contact: email@example.com.
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