Retraining the Knee-Jerk Brain
By Brent Atkinson - Conscious understanding and effort aren’t the mighty forces we assume they are. Our automatic urges and inclinations are much stronger than most of us ever imagined. Even so, there's something we can do to retrain the emotional brain.
How Brain Science Can Teach Couples Emotional Literacy
By Brent Atkinson - Even among couples who do make progress in therapy, a disheartening chunk relapse. Why? A lack of emotional literacy. Good clinicians help couples effectively calm their anger and fear circuits as well as stimulate the more vulnerable, connection-generating states. The therapist acts as a kind of neural chiropractor, making regular, finely tuned adjustments to each partner's out-of-sync brain.
Using Brain Science to Spark Behavioral Change
By Brent Atkinson - Throughout history, we’ve been operating under a great deception—we tend to believe that our thoughts and actions result largely from our conscious intentions. In fact, while our rational mind has a degree of veto power, the inclinations that fuel our perceptions, interpretations, and actions primarily come from neural processes that operate beneath the level of awareness. The emotional brain plays a crucial role in the machinery of rationality: the brain generates quick, gut-level emotional reactions that collectively serve as a guidance system for reasoning.
Using Brain Science in Therapy to Alter Mood States
When clients become upset, they're in the grip of one of seven major body-brain mood states, also referred to as "executive operating systems." These are more than just passing moods. They're complex neurochemical cascades, in which hormones race through the body and brain and electrical impulses fly over familiar neural synapses, shaping what we feel, do, and think. This hormonal cascade can be lifesaving in the appropriate situation---in the face of a dangerous driver, say, or a possible mugger or rapist. But in intimate relationships, it's often toxic. In my work as a couples therapist, I train my clients to reactivate the neocortex---the inner switchmaster---in the face of strong emotion.
Learning to Strengthen Brain Circuits
In his recent Networker article “The Great Deception,” psychologist Brent Atkinson, author of Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy: Advances from Neurobiology and the Science of Intimate Relationships, explains the power of mental rehearsal and what this means for your clients.
A Mindful Approach With Couples
Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that there’s no one-shot, magic-bullet approach to retraining the human brain. Instead, I’ve developed a process that systematically combines what we know about the power of the emotional brain, the particular strengths of the rational mind, the mechanics of mindfulness meditation, and the brain’s impressive flexibility to help clients learn to calm their nervous systems and navigate their lives more effectively.
Our Conscious Behaviors May Not Be So Conscious After All
I’d emerged from my doctoral studies utterly dissatisfied with existing answers to the question of why people continue to behave in self-defeating, irrational ways despite clear evidence that their methods aren’t working.