How therapy helps the brain’s capacity to regulate and heal
In the last three decades, the discipline of neurobiology has emphasized the fantastic ability of the human brain to regulate and heal. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s capacity to create new neurological pathways to repair developmental gaps and heal trauma. This brain’s ability is activated when an individual actively participates in their own healing by cultivating healthy relationships, becoming more active, redefining purpose, and improving self-awareness with the help of a qualified therapist, for example.
How Therapy Works
Babies attach to their parents or caregivers. Parents attune to their babies forming secure attachments. Infants’ needs for feeling safe, protected, loved and nurtured require proper attention. Parents must respond to those needs appropriately – good enough is the goal. This positive parental attention allows the child to develop physically, emotionally, and intellectually healthy. Lack of parental response to those fundamental needs causes insecure attachment affecting the child’s behavioral, emotional, and learning development.
In therapy, attunement is the skill of connecting with a client’s emotional state and respond appropriately. Attunement goes beyond empathy, which is cognitively understanding and emotionally feeling another person’s emotional state and experience. Attunement is much more than being present, listening, and understanding.
In attunement, the therapist connects with a client at a deep emotional level and responds in a verbal and non-verbal language that reflects that deep, emotionally synchronized connection.
When this immersive experience takes place, the therapist can genuinely reflect that trusting connection that the client needs to experience safety and the validation they lack from early development or relational losses.
I tend to stress rationality over feelings, which makes me prioritize performance (work) over relationships. I grew up with an insecure attachment that affected my emotional development. My Mom was a good enough mother, although tough and detached. She was a single mother with small children in a difficult time and place for any single mother. I don’t recall a loving hug or word of approval from her while growing up until I graduated from military school.
As a child, I adapted to my mother’s affective and relational style by becoming a perfectionist – “If I do it right, she’ll be happy and love me.” Throughout my life, this perfectionism helped me thrive professionally but at the expense of relationships.
I became aware of my arrested emotional development in therapy. A developmental gap in my limbic system (emotional brain) prevented me from fully experiencing emotional closeness with loved ones. Even though I loved my family deeply, I had a range of feelings from fear to shame that warded me off from experiencing that flow of energy, feelings, and information that happens when one connects with a loved one through a right-to-right brain hemisphere communication, which is the sharing of emotions. Unresolved arrested emotional development due to insecure attachment or trauma impairs this essential form of communication for a fulfilling relational life.
The ability to effectively attune to clients to foster a trusting connection that helps create new neurological pathways to repair developmental gaps and heal trauma is one of the foundational pillars of clinical counseling.
Brain’s neuroplasticity indeed declines with age, but it never comes to a halt. That means that no matter the age, one can always learn “new tricks.”