How to Install New Mental States

What Therapists Should Know about Brain Change

Rich Simon

Until recently, the practical impact of brain science on the everyday work of most therapists has been pretty limited. According to Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness, that’s because we’ve been missing the big picture of what we’ve been learning about how the brain functions, including the organizing principles of how neural structures are built and how they change over time. As he says in this video clip, “If you want to help a client be less anxious or less depressed or more able to control himself in interactions with other people—whatever your goals are—fundamentally, that means changing brain structure. So one way to think about what we do every day as therapists is being in the business of changing the brain.”

How do we help our clients change the structure of their brain? According to Rick, “It takes learning—the alteration of neural structure and function—which proceeds in two stages. First, there must be an activated mental state: a thought, perception, emotion, desire, sense of action, or a combination of these. But that’s not enough. A second stage is critical—the installation of this passing mental state into a durable trait, a lasting neural structure.” For installation to take place, we need to pay attention to how we enrich experience, which Rick explains in his Networker article The Next Big Step.

“The brain is very good at learning from bad experiences,” Rick says, “But it’s pretty bad at learning from good experiences—unless they’re million-dollar moments.” As therapists, however, we can facilitate that brain change that helps clients learn from the good. For more on changing neural structure and what Rick calls the HEAL process, check out his Webcast in our series Why Brain Science Matters.

Why Brain Science Matters
Concrete Strategies for Your Practice

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Tags: brain science | brain functions | brain structure | changing the brain | emotion | HEAL | learning | neural structures | neuroscience | positive psychology | Rick Hanson | science | therapists

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