As psychotherapists we are fascinated by what goes on people’s minds, and what makes one person so different from another. It has largely been the psychologists who have done their best to make some sense of all of this, by observing behaviour and building theories as a result. However, sophisticated brain imagery technology – such as fMRIs and PET scans- has ushered in a growing and hugely exciting discipline of neuroscience. Thinking about our minds, memories, moods and emotional worlds has changed drastically and will continue to do so as long as the will and the funding persists (which seems likely).
If you want a good primer on all of this (which is very readable and beautifully illustrated), you could do pretty well with Rita Carter’s newly updated Mapping of the Mind – published this August. She pulls together lots of information, otherwise scattered in a number of sources, likening neuroscience to having a “gold rush” mentality, with scores of interested parties (therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, others) involved in their own pockets of research. She suggests our current map of the mind is like a 16th century world map, with some core basics there, but lots of room for improvement.
This is hugely exciting for us all, but especially those involved in the talking therapies who can be usefully informed by these findings. So, for just one example, we know that the right hempishere of the brain is largely involved with the emotional realm, the left side with the “reason”, logic and language. So, if we become overwhelmed by emotion, it can help to engage in a left brain task, such as a crossword or talking. A fairly obvious example, intuitive to many, but it’s exciting to know that further insights from neuroscience can help us target therapeutic interventions more effectively (and indeed the field of trauma therapy is increasingly informed in this way).