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It can also be compromised by poor nutrition, lack of exercise, smoking, disturbed sleep patterns, and many drugs; all these factors inhibit the essence of the plasticity, and encourage neural rigidity. Further, any violation of basic needs such as trauma up-regulates the fear response system and, using the same plasticity, generates neural patterns of protection.

These are the looping neural connections, clearly demonstrated in fMRI and PET images, which maximise immediate survival and minimise problem solving. The implications for therapeutic work are significant. Clearly, if neural plasticity is so powerful, and neural systems can change their connection patterns via synaptogenesis and synaptoplasticity, we need to ask: Are there evidence-based indicators that maximise neural plasticity and facilitate neural activation that is strong and effective. We are now in the midst of the era following the decade of the brain.

While neural science continues to ask ever more profound questions, and continues to present new worlds of information on a daily basis, we are at the same time experiencing the era of applied neuroscience. No longer is this an isolated world of scientists locked in laboratories; we can now see that neuroscience has come full circle in its interaction with its environment, where the focus is to promote wellness in our society.

In Eric Kandel identified a revolution—saying we were in the midst of a remarkable scientific revolution, a revolution that was about to change the way we view our sense of being Kandel, This revolution is indeed taking place in terms of the strategies being used to enhance wellness, which are based directly on neurobiological information as a psychotherapeutic tool. Molecular neuroscience has demonstrated how talking therapies are the preferred strategies to facilitate neural change—that new patterns of neural activation can be facilitated via the unique qualities of talking strategies provided in an enriched environment.

These new patterns of neural activation are facilitated by effective activation of the mirror neuron systems, enhancing cortical blood flow to empower solution-focused outcomes, and facilitating and strengthening new activation patterns, to enhance long-term patterns and reduce risk of relapse into default protection patterns. Current research indicates that many different talking therapies are effective in facilitating neural change.

The meta-analysis provided by Klaus Grawe shows clearly that the common denominator for change through talking therapies is adherence to the key principles of neuroanatomy—namely, to facilitate limbic resonance by activating the primitive limbic mirror neuron system LMNS ; to facilitate safety to enable down-regulation of distress; to enhance cortical blood flow; to address risk factors that cause neural rigidity, such as various lifestyle factors; to strengthen neural activation networks, and facilitate healthy social interactions.

The human brain is not an isolated entity.

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It exists in relation to its environment; if all stimulation ceases, therefore, the brain dies. The new paradigm in our understanding of the brain indicates that neuroscience is not a reductionist approach but, rather, an inclusive approach.

The human brain is a social entity, and its wellness depends on the quality of its connection with its environment. In this framework, talking therapies are seen to foster the microcosms of new, safe and secure social structures, which facilitate the building of new healthy neural pathways. Talking therapies are not magic cures. To foster new neural pathways of thinking, feeling, behaving, and being, synaptoplasticity must be activated to facilitate communication among new neural networks.

These networks are fragile, however, and can relapse to default patterns easily; therefore the challenge is to facilitate adequate activation towards new patterns of firing to cause default patterns to shift. This means a shift in glial activation in order to strengthen the new patterns—recall the Hebbian principle, neurons that fire together, wire together. Cost-effective interventions are also key. In this regard, significant debates about the health care system have arisen, especially in countries like Australia where rebates are available for some services, but on a sliding scale.

Unless new patterns of thinking, feeling, doing and being—as identified in therapy—are effectively facilitated, molecular neuroscience has shown that they are doomed to fail and relapse. Inevitably, this forces the health system further into a crisis management model where more resources are continuously channelled for less result. Strengthening new neural patterns needs personal support and regular activation—that is, the mirror neuron effect and the homework effect. While internet-based interventions have been proposed to enhance therapeutic outcomes, a meta-analysis of such treatment models currently being undertaken at The University of Queensland demonstrates that almost all models aimed to reduce symptoms of pathology fail to facilitate lasting neural change in terms of the basic principles of neuroanatomy.

Clearly, the exclusion of ongoing therapist—client interaction compromises the model. At The University of Queensland, in conjunction with the Queensland Brain Institute and key neuroscientists around the world, we are working on internet-based models to enhance facilitation of neural pathways via clinician-based activation.

This program will focus on strengthening the interventions used by practising clinicians through interactive internet-based activities that will be inclusive of the regular interventions of a therapist. The program is currently in the experimental phase, however, the early indicators are very promising and it is hoped clinicians nationwide will be introduced to these models in the near future. In terms of psychotherapy, modern neuroscience suggests that the person of the therapist is more important than how much of a specialist he or she may be, and more important than the knowledge base or the insights into a bag of tricks.

Recent research indicates instead that the therapeutic alliance, limbic mirror neuron effect, and facilitation of safety and control, are ultimately more crucial in facilitating effective neural change than any of the above-mentioned variables. These qualities will be enhanced more by a better understanding of neural processes and evidence-based practice than anything else. Undoubtedly, mental health clinicians are in the midst of an exciting era post the decade of the brain, the era of neural application. This is indeed an exciting time where—more than ever—counselling has been identified as the fundamental catalyst to facilitate and enhance wellness.

Effective psychotherapy in a racially and culturally diverse society

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