Sean Heneghan BSc Hons, LicAc, MBAcC, HPD, DipCHyp

Counsellor, Acupuncturist
& Cognitive Hypnotherapist

With extensive training and a range of
therapeutic experience, I can help
people with a range of physical and
emotional problems.

Counselling in Berkhamsted: How talking about our feelings helps regulate the brain

There are many questions that people can have at the outset of counselling, particularly if the whole experience is a new one for them. Sometimes a question I hear from those people that are more skeptical or unsure of the process is "how will talking make a difference to me?’" Some of us are aware that communicating about our feelings to the right pair of ears can have a profound effect in helping us feel better, but that’s not true of many of us, and perhaps for good reason. On the whole we don’t really learn how to listen to each in other in a way that helps facilitate each others experience so that feelings can be experienced and processed. Many of us haven’t experienced the value of being really heard and we haven’t been encouraged to communicate about our internal states nor to enquire more deeply into our feelings, thoughts, beliefs and ideas. Most of us didn’t get this in the way we might of needed growing up, and it’s certainly not part of our educational system. As a result skepticism or uncertainty about the value of the process is easy to understand.

For me there are many reasons why opening up and beginning a dialogue is so helpful when we’re suffering, but one perspective which I think is particularly useful is to examine the process from a physiological perspective - what happens to the brain of someone who is in a heightened state of emotional distress and begins to engage in a dialogue about it? 

At this point in history we are more equipped than ever to answer these questions due to recent discoveries in neuroscience that describe how our brains became locked into hyperarousal and in turn how they are rebalanced. Louis Cozolino in his book ‘Why therapy works’ addresses these issues and to paraphrase him, when we’re in a heightened state of emotional distress the area of the brain responsible for expressive speech (called Broca’s area) becomes inhibited. This results in a diminished capacity to communicate and express what’s happening inside ourselves when we’re in the grip of powerful feelings. Perhaps you’ve seen this demonstrated if you’ve ever seen anybody in shock who’s so overwhelmed they can’t talk properly or experienced it yourself in a less dramatic fashion if you’ve ever got tongue tied when nervous, intimidated or under pressure. 

 

The impact of the inhibition of Broca’s area is the brain can become locked into a state of hyper arousal - the kind of over activated state that could be soothed were we to communicate about our feelings. In problems like post traumatic stress disorder, experience which is too overwhelming to fully experience at the time can become ‘stuck’, indescribable and therefore crystallised in a way that can’t be processed. Very often in PTSD it’s the gentle process of turning experience into language and expression that helps somebody recover their life and their functioning. Cozolino eloquently describes this process in his book:

 

‘While the momentary inhibition of sound production may have no negative consequences for other animals, it can be disastrous for humans. For us, shutting down sound means losing the language we need in order to connect with others and to organize our conscious experiences. Language serves the integration of neural networks of emotion and cognition that supports emotional regulation and attachment. Putting feelings into words and constructing narratives of our experiences make an invaluable contribution to a coherent sense of self. Central tenets of psychotherapy include expressing the unexpressed, making the unconscious conscious, and integrating thoughts and feelings. Experiences that occur before we develop speech or in the context of trauma remain unintegrated and isolated in dissociated neural networks. By stimulating Broca’s area, connecting words with feelings, and helping clients to construct a coherent narrative of their experiences, we help restore a sense of perspective and agency and an ability to edit dysfunctional life stories. Language has evolved to connect us to each other and to ourselves, a primary reason for the success of the talking cure.’

 

So we can see that there is so much more that’s going on in therapy than simply talking and listening. Talking involves the processing and reorganisation of our internal experience in such a way that it helps restore our brains to calmer more modulated states. The transformation of painful feelings into language supports the deactivation of portions of the brain which become over activated when we’re stressed; so next time you’re suffering with something think about your Broca’s area, and what it might do for you to turn your experience into communication.

 

If you’d like to read more about the neuroscience of counselling and therapy you can do that in ‘Why therapy works’ by Louis Cozolino.

If you're looking for a counsellor in berkhamsted or think you might benefit from starting counselling you can feel free to phone me on 07717 515 013 or email me at sean@seanheneghan.com. You can feel free to ask any questions you have without committing to an appointment. 

 


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