The Brain’s Emotional Circuits

Lots has been written in the past 20 years about the brain and how its wiring directly impacts our emotional states.  One writer pointedly drew the distinction between the “mind” and the “brain” – that collection of billions of neurons, each with numerous axons that connect with others to create networks.  These networks are the pathways for our thougths and mental associations, as well as our most gripping emotions – Rage, Fear, Lust, Sexual Lust, Connection with Others, Seeking (exploring the environment for its rewards….basic aliveness and vitality).  Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp has identified the specific neural networks where these feelings track.  Scientists for years have been able to experimentally stimulate areas of the brain and produce angry, fearful, lustful, exploring and anxious behavior.  Substantial evidence exists for the notion that chronic feeings of irritation or anxiety, for example, are actually reflections of a low-grade, constant activation of these neural networks.  This is perhaps, why neurofeedback therapy has been clinically found to ease these distressing states.

The Promise of Neurofeedback

Finally!  Neurofeedback therapy inches its way into the general public consciousness with a very balanced and informative piece on NPR’s Morning Edition on the 1st of this month.  Long recognized as effective in the treatment of many distressing conditions – including ADHD, mood disorders, anxiety and sleep disorders – Neurofeedback has shared the fate of many promising and healing approaches to individual care which are considered “out of the mainstream.”  In a wholly different vein, Collaborative Law, an incredibly supportive (and even healing) approach to the personal trauma of divorce, has faced resistance (and even hostility) from those who can’t imagine doing something differently from the way its been done for a long time.   The rationale for not changing?  “That’s the way we do it.”  One of the great books of the last many years was Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, in which he describes many a movement (social, marketing, etc.) which built and built until something happened….one thing….and all the dormant forces behind the movement were unleashed and the momentum driving the idea or product into legitimacy and prominence seemed, suddenly, unstoppable.   We may have reached that tipping point in the recognition of the promise of neurofeedback therapy.

Depression and Marriage

Lots of marriages have run aground over the depression of one of the partners. Most frequently, it has been the man. I think we have a mistaken assumption that depression means that someone doesn’t get out of bed or is basically non-functional. Most people who are depressed have families, go to work and generally do what they gotta do. It’s just that the color is drained from their lives. Depressed people don’t find enjoyment in the things that used to please them. In the face of suggestions about change, their common response is a variant of “What difference does it make?” While you may be successful in your job, this task uses up about all of your reserves of energy. You feel there’s nothing left when you come home. Certainly not for dealing with the challenges that go along with maintaining a strong relationship. The partner of the depressed person feels alone. Any negative comment directed at the depressed spouse is taken in deeply by the depressed mind as a global criticism and they withdraw. The good news is that treatment approaches for depression abound. A marriage doesn’t have to end over one spouse’s depression. The approaches of David Burns, Aaron Beck, Michael Yapko and Martin Seligman all point the way out of the (falsely) inescapable darkness of depression. Finding the works of any of these people on Amazon cannot steer you wrong.