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A Psychotherapist Reflects On The Value Of Neuroscience

October 19, 2010 Phil Boas

"Neuroscience might just be a rational person’s defence against engaging with their emotions. Or it might be gigantic step toward more sophisticated therapeutic interventions.”  

A-Psychotherapist-Reflects-On-The-Value-Of-Neuroscience  

I don’t understand how my car engine works, but that does not stop me from being a competent driver. I don’t really understand how my TV or my mobile phone work, but that does not stop me from being a competent and effective user.

Of course, if I want to be an effective technician or design person on these electronic items, then I need a depth of knowledge well beyond acting merely as a user. But maybe, if I really understood how my car, phone and TV worked then I could make use of them in ways that as a naive user I cannot.

So the big question for me is - why I would want to understand how my brain works from the inside. It is almost certain that if I do I will be able to understand my behaviour and how to modify it more effectively, including the way that I feel.

Although I am never intending to modify, repair or renovate my brain, from the outside I can learn to modify its processes from the inside.

Given that I want to be able to use it to gain more conscious control of my emotions: understand the emotions of others, understand its anatomy, physiology and biochemistry and by doing so, it will add to my capacity to plan some of the changes and management tools I want.

So, it will matter to me which part of my brain is active when I engage in one or other of the activities that will help me manage my self or manipulate others. Oh does ‘manipulation’ sound like a bad thing, well just read ‘Influence with Integrity’, same thing, I mean, it’s just words, like Amygdala, or is it?

I do want to know at some conscious level how I am feeling, what emotions are at play in my psyche (whatever that actually is), but, in order to explore this, knowing what the different areas of my brain are up to is giving me more maps to play with.

I do need some model that connects my behaviour at an emotional level with my cognitive, linguistically oriented thinking so that my thinking and feeling can connect together usefully. In this case ignorance is definitely not bliss.

I do want to be able to understand how someone else is feeling, what their behaviour tells me about how they are thinking or feeling about something. Understanding about the internal functions of their brain helps me to know what is going on when I pay attention to the behaviour.

This knowledge does actually increase my ability to engage in a process of checking if my perceptions and inferences are accurate. I can just talk with them, tell them what I am inferring and check whether that is correct for them. Neuroscience may not be needed but it does enhance my understanding as I travel in this unfamiliar territory.

I definitely want to be able to feel in control of my own emotional states. When I am feeling one way, I want to know that if that emotion is not helping me achieve my outcomes, then I can change it to another that I have experienced somewhere in my life that is more likely to help me behave usefully.

Again, understanding what is going on helps me to retrieve the emotions that were operating then and there and bring them into the here and now. An obvious place for Neuroscience here.

Finally I want to be able to manipulate, influence, and relate to others. The social skills needed for this process are included in the skills I need to be aware of for myself and others, and to be able to adjust my feeling state to be most helpful to me as I relate.

So, I am left with this thought: It might be interesting to know what the names are for various parts of my brain, it might be interesting to know the history of all the bits in there from reptilian past to amazing present.

It might also be interesting to understand how these bits relate together to create the experiences I have and the outcomes that they achieve for me.

Although my brain will work for me, and, without my understanding its technicalities, then the more I do understand it, the cannier my interventions become.

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Phil Boas

Phil Boas

For the past 25 years Phil Boas has worked primarily as a consultant to the public and private sectors, mainly throughout Australia with very large and medium size client organisations both here and overseas. He has worked in New Guinea, Canada and the USA. Phil is regarded as one of Australia’s leading consultants and trainers in the sphere of human relationships, especially in interpersonal skills and small groups; including problem analysis, problem solving and counseling with individuals and work-teams, organisations and organizational development and culture change. For the last decade has been involved in innovative and organization-specific leadership programs and the development of leadership capabilities in large organisational systems. He is the author and co-author of a range of books and research reports on organisational programs, counseling and interpersonal skills.

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