I am following a webinar called Can Mindfulness Rewire the Brain?

I have just been listening to the NICABM mindfulness series’ presentation by Sara Lazar, PhD, and discussion about neuroplasticity – that buzzword that means that the brain develops new neurons in the learning process, at any age. Weekly there is a long and fascinating discussion of the different areas of the brain and their function, specifically related to mental health. Recent research and available technology allows the use of MRI machines to measure and observe and monitor all kinds of things.

The webinar, freely accessible when you sign up for the series, is exploring the research on mindfulness, a form of meditation that has huge implications for mental health – and for mental health practitioners.

The part that I twigged to, after listening to by this time for me familiar research, was the development of compassion, that faculty that allows us to have empathy for others and that is so essential for all therapists. And, according to my recent trauma training, often absent in medical personnel, sigh. (We have to treat the trauma of medical procedures in HMR, Holographic Memory Resolution.)

Compassion is what Tibetan monks and the Dalai Lama are so obviously full of. Now, in addition to empathy, mindfulness brings us to a place where we begin to see the whole picture and connection to the universe… that was not discussed in this web seminar…

In any case, the point I want to make is that research is able to show what is going on in the brain – many brains, if it is to be considered research – when people are doing more of one thing or another. So the area of the brain that we know to be associated with empathy – the TPJ, the temporal parietal junction, the area of the brain that is important for this discussion – increases in grey matter with mindfulness. This also corroborates the reported increase in empathetic feelings for others.

In short, then, there is substantial research that the brain changes with the practice of mindfulness.

Where am I going with this?
The part that excited me was the smaller study mentioned about therapists and patients, where the therapists had learned and practiced mindfulness. The study shows that the patients had better outcomes when the therapists practiced mindfulness than when they did not.

So … if you are hunting for a good therapist, who will make a difference in your life, here is a question you can ask that may throw them off guard. Find out whether they practice mindfulness meditation…

Not sure where else I was going with this piece. Oh yes. The impact on depression, the studies show, is also considerable. If depressed patients are taught the practice of mindfulness, their outcomes are better – they are, in clinical terms, more robust and less likely to fall into the deep valley of depression when they have learned mindfulness.

Where it is counterindicated – that is, where mindfulness does not help or where it may bring unexpected and negative effects – is when working with patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or some sort of identified trauma history. Any interior meditative practice runs the risk of flooding – overwhelming with painful memories or flashbacks. Long retreats for this reason are not a good idea for someone with trauma history… too much focus on internal process, with undesirable emotional flooding. What works for this kind of trauma history is an outward-directed practice such as yoga or tai chi, that does not involve closed eyes, that is grounding and that creates safety.

I am sure I will get around to saying more. I find it interesting that I can go between a small snippet of noticing something in a café and writing from a therapist’s viewpoint. Hmmm. I will have to explore Internal Family Systems theory out loud sometime soon on the blog. Seems different parts of me like writing about different things ;-)…

Be well, and listen to yourself. If you do not like what you hear, go for help…