Brain Retraining: Change is Possible
As a parent, I get the opportunity to watch a lot of cartoons, so many of my analogies and thought processes are inspired by Disney and Nick Jr. For example, during the movie Frozen, Princess Anna and the trolls confidently declare “people really don’t change.”
This song shares a sentiment embraced by many clients in the counseling process. I’ve often heard them say, “I can’t change, so why bother.” I can understand where they are coming from. Many have read books, created New Year’s resolutions and gone up for prayer. But the problem remains, leaving them feeling exhausted, desperate, and in many cases, hopeless.
A belief that change is possible and attainable is crucial if the therapeutic process is going to be beneficial. I can tell individuals that change is possible, but inevitably they will look at me with a bit of distrust and they may even be brave enough to vocalize their doubt.
The principles of neuroscience are a powerful, fact-based way of proving that people can change. Not because of my belief in the client, but rather my belief in God’s design of the brain.
Many years ago, researchers contended that the brain was fixed and unable to change. Essentially, they believed once the “program” or “software” was installed, nothing in the brain could be updated or revised. Ramon y Cajal, an early 20th-century researcher, said, “In adult centers, the nerve paths are something fixed, ended, immutable. Everything may die, nothing may be regenerated.” This type of thought process supports the notion that people are incapable of change.
Since then, science has disproven that assumption. Our brains are actually highly adaptable and changeable. Even better, we have the power to change how we think, which affects feelings and actions and ultimately changes how we live. Science is showing us that the physical nature of the brain can change through our thoughts and actions.
What’s so exciting to me as a believer is that the Bible left us clues and insights into this change process and the power of the brain.
What’s also exciting is how quickly this change can occur. On many occasions, my clients have stated they feel significant relief and change after practicing brain-training interventions. I’ve had several clients touch their heads and tell me, “I know this sounds weird, but my brain actually feels different.” While this change is momentary, what they learned in session can be practiced and become their new normal.
In order for change to happen, clients need to first recognize that it’s possible. I believe the Bible and science are showing us how the change process works. Lamentations 3:23 tells us that “His mercies are new every morning.” God has built these new mercies into our brains as well.
Neurogenesis is a fancy word describing a process that happens every morning where the brain has created new neurons. I’m sure you’ve heard the brain described as a superhighway. Every morning, new baby roads are established. No longer is the brain a fixed, paved pathway. Every morning, regardless of age, gender, or even personality, we wake up to new possibilities.
Neurogenesis is linked to changes in neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is all about the brain’s flexibility and ability to change and form new connections.
In order for counseling to be effective, clients have to know that change is possible. It’s hard work, but when they can see their brains are literally capable of change, then it can open their mind to a new willingness to try, which I believe is so critical for therapeutic work.
It’s also important to note that simple things like diet, exercise, and sleep all boost our brain’s capability in forming these new highways.
Here are some helpful books:
Blessings to you,