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Neuropsychology research is something that everyone can understand, with the right tools.

Understanding how your emotional brain works is pretty important, too! It helps you make more informed decisions about your mental health care and treatment options.

The Brain
Let's start with the basics.
These are the two areas of your brain that you'll be learning more about (the Prefrontal Cortex and the Limbic System.) Understanding these areas is essential to understanding emotional distress and mental health treatment.
 
 
Limbic System
It's the first stopping point for all data you receive. It's a primitive part of the brain, and doesn't process or communicate information as thoughts, but as basic sensory data.
Everyday Limbic Moments
We all experience Limbic moments. Often times these happen because the Limbic System processes information more quickly than other areas of our brain. Sometimes, though, we just can't explain our experience rationally. It isn't all bad, either!
 
Limbic Distress 
Sometimes, your Limbic System substantially alters your quality of life. Just like your immune system reacts to a virus, in order to protect you, your Limbic System reacts to life trauma. This is not abnormal. However, it can feel abnormal and isolating when you can't explain what's wrong.
 
Post
Traumatic Stress
Relational
Issues
The Limbic System and Talk Therapy
Traditional Psychotherapy attempts to work with the Prefrontal Cortex on issues of the Limbic System. Because it's difficult to rationalize the raw sensory and emotive data, many people spend years (or decades) in therapy working to conceptualize limbic issues.

You go to therapy because of emotional difficulties, due to mental illness or trauma. These issues originate in the center portion of the brain.

 

This is a primitive part of your brain, that does not store or process information using words or thoughts. 

Why You Go To Therapy

 
 
Bilateral Stimulation (BLS) and Limbic Distress
BLS allows access to raw sensory information that reside in the Limbic System.
Like many well known medical treatments, we have little information about how bilateral stimulation actually works within the Limbic System. Studies show that BLS effectively and efficiently positively impacts self-reported feelings of distress and actually stabilizes the brain in neuro-imaging research.

The 3 most recent studies of the efficacy of BLS as a treatment for Depression (Hoffman, 2015; Behnammoghadam et al., 2015Hase et al., 2015) showed substantial evidence that BLS (specifically EMDR) shows greater recovery rates that talk therapy.

 

Of specific note was the Hase study, which compared a group of 32 individuals who were hospitalized for recurrent Depression. The facilitators administered a regiment of individual Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, group therapy sessions, and 5 psycho-education sessions. 16 of the individuals were also administered EMDR, in addition to the above. The study found that the simple addition of the EMDR sessions substantially positively impacted the outcome of treatment. This was measured by use of the Beck Depression Inventory.

2 recent studies of the efficacy of BLS as a treatment for Substance Use Disorders (Perez-Dandieu and Tapia, 2014; Hase et al., 2008showed substantial evidence that BLS (specifically EMDR) is useful in treatment of trauma related substance abuse and in reducing alcohol cravings. It should be noted that, due to the substantial complexity of substance abuse, a variety of interventions is necessary.

5 recent studies of BLS as a treatment for issues of Self-Esteem (Dziegielewski and Wolfe, 2000Shapiro, 2001Maxwell, 2003Sanders and Ten Broeke, 2011; Wanders et al., 2008showed substantial evidence that the treatment is more effective than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in treating Low Self-Esteem. Additionally, Silverstone and Salsali, 2003 found that Low Self-Esteem that is connected to severe illness is especially responsive to EMDR, due to high emotional charge of past memories involving the concept of self.

EMDR is widely accepted as the premier treatment for Trauma Disorders. Both the World Health Organization and the Department of Veterans Affairs name EMDR as the preferred post-trauma treatment. There is a plethora of research on EMDR's efficient and effective treatment of Trauma Disorders. In addition to studies of subject reported treatment responses, EMDR has significant evidence of results from neuro-imaging.

The image to the right is a comparative EEG from the Pagani et al. 2013 study. The EEG was used to measure activity in the brain's regions before and after EMDR treatment. This particular image shows the actual areas of decreases and increased activity over the course of treatment.

 Limbic System shows substantial reduction in activity, over the course of treatment.

There are significant increases in activity in more rational areas of the brain.

 

This shows a shift from reactive

to rational brain activity.

Bilateral Stimulation is the alternating stimulation of the left and right hemisphere of your brain, through visual, tactile and auditory stimulation. Through research and practice, it has been found that individuals are able to have richer and clearer connections to past memories, both positive and traumatic in nature. The clearer that a memory becomes, the more quickly a client is able to desensitize the memory and reprocess it in a way that the client finds to be more empowering.

 
Mindfulness and Distress
There is extensive research that measures the efficacy of Mindfulness Based Therapies. The following studies reflect the larger body of research, which indicates the power of Mindfulness to strengthen neural connections which support attention and emotional stability.
12 Participants in Meditation Group 
16 Participants in Control Group 
Process: 16 weeks of Mindfulness Meditation for 10 minutes per day, for Meditation Group.
Diagrams: EEGs were conducted at 3 separate times, throughout the study. The Diagrams show 4 images, with different electrode placement, showing the neural activity changes from before the 16 week activity and after. (Dark Blue represents the greatest decrease in neural activity and Dark Red represents the greatest increase.
Increased activity in areas of brain responsible for attention and impulse control.
Moore A, Gruber T, Derose J and Malinowski P (2012) Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysiological markers of attentional control. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:18.
Process: 145 individuals' were subject to psychological testing, including administration of the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS.) MRIs were taken for all individuals. The intent of the study was to determine the correlation between an individual's natural mindfulness or mindlessness state and the size of the Amygdala (specifically the right.) This study did not teach mindfulness techniques.
Results: This study showed a positive correlation between MAAS and Amygdala size. Greater levels of Mindful Awareness were associated with smaller right Amygdala.
Previous studies had shown that decreasing Amygdala size positively correlates with learning and practicing Mindfulness.
Taren AA, Creswell JD, Gianaros PJ (2013) Dispositional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amygdala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults. PLoS ONE8(5): e64574.
Process: 100 individuals' were subject to MRIs, 50 established meditators of 4+ years and 50 non-meditator control subjects. The intent of the study was to determine the correlation between long term mindfulness meditation and the size of the Hippocampus. This study did not teach mindfulness techniques.
Results: This study showed that Hippocampus volume is greatly increased in those who meditate. The increased volume is thought to be responsible for the ability to process old memories more effectively, support easier Limbic communication with the Prefrontal Cortex, and reduce stress more effortlessly. 
Luders, E., Kurth, F., Toga, A. W., Narr, K. L., & Gaser, C. (2013). Meditation effects within the hippocampal complex revealed by voxel-based morphometry and cytoarchitectonic probabilistic mapping. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 398. 
Process: 20 individuals with extensive experience with Insight Meditation and 15 individuals who served as controls were subject to MRIs. The intent of the study was to determine the correlation between long term meditation and physical structure of the brain (most studies research neuro-connectivity and not brain matter.) This study did not teach mindfulness techniques.
Results: This study showed that (within the Meditator Group) there was a substantial increase cortical thickness in the areas of:
- The Insular Cortex, which is a middle ground between the Frontal Cortex and Limbic System. The Insular Cortex is believed to be the center of an individual's concept of self and empathy (which makes sense, as they are both very strong sensory experiences that are thought provoking.) 
- The sections of the Frontal Cortex that are involved in short-term memory, the over-riding of automatic Limbic responses, inductive reasoning, and inferring intention from others.
- The Pre-Frontal Cortex, which is responsible for working memory, episodic memory, and multiple task coordination.
Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., … Fischl, B. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport, 16(17), 1893–1897.

All of those mundane thoughts are super easy to interact with. They get stuck in your head, and can ruin your day.

Mindfulness Based Treatments can help dissolve the anxiety, depression, and frustration that come with mindless brain chatter.