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July 25, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Dan Siegel: Re-Wire Your Brain

91 Overpass-2 006

Like I say, Dr. Dan Siegel introduced me to brain science, and I write about brain scientists like him ‘cos they saved my life.  It was all an accident… or a God-send.

In August 2010,  I heard psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud on CD saying, “we can now do scans of the brain of older kids who were… not held, comforted or soothed, and there are parts of the brain which are dark. There’s nothing growing in there — because nothing was planted; neurologically there’s literally no brain activity.”

That was me, and it hit me in the gut: “Oh, s#$%!  Parts of my brain are dark!”  I thought it was fried for life.  I was commuting and almost drove off this I-91 overpass near Anaheim, CA at 70 mph (view from my car, above).  It was no trip to Disneyland.

Later I learned what I had was  “developmental trauma.”

But in March 2011, Dr. Dan Siegel taught me that we can re-wire our brains. It was literally an answer to prayer.  I clicked the wrong link in a friend’s email and ended up by mistake watching a webinar by some guy named Siegel titled  “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains.”1

He announces with characteristic excitement (I do love him): “We’re in a moment now of making one of the most revolutionary findings from neuroscience: neuroplasticity.

“Neuroplasticity is the way we can study how the connections in the brain… continually change throughout the life span… we’re now learning  that the brain doesn’t stop growing after childhood or adolescence; it continues to grow throughout the entire life span.”

Re-Wiring with “Mindsight”

Dan Siegel Mindsight cover1

“Experience drives those changes by activating the firing of neurons, and then as neurons fire, they can rewire their connections to one another,” and make new synaptic connections, Siegel said. We can even grow more myelin coating on the neurons involved in the new thought patterns where we want to focus our attention.

That leaves the bad old brain patterns we don’t want to repeat, the ones which cause us emotional pain, not so myelinated.  And as our new brain patterns create more myelin on the cells we’re deliberately firing in new ways, our new neural patterns  become supercharged to fire faster and at way higher efficiencies, he continued.

We can use mindfulness meditation, therapy, and even brain exercises, he said, to “focus attention, which is basically harnessing the power of the mind to focus energy and information flow through the substance of the brain. As you do that, you can change synaptic connections, you can stimulate the growth of new neurons” and develop mental skills which grow myelin. “In all those ways, we can change the physical structure of the brain to the focus of the mind.”

Plus, Siegel said, we can specifically use a technique he invented called “Mindsight” to become mindful of all our mental activities, and reorganize them, to re-wire our brain even more efficiently.  We can recognize that whatever happens to be mechanically flowing through our brain is not really “us.”  It’s just the mechanical patterns of neurons which have been firing on autopilot (brainlessly!) without our wanting or needing them to fire, often since infancy, and most of them since adolescence.

“Mindsight is the capacity to sense that those mental activities are, in fact, not the totality of who you are, “ he said. “So in that sense, it overlaps with mindfulness… but it goes beyond mindfulness because once you have this ability to sense that these mental activities are just part of your identity, you then specifically can move the way your energy and information flow is happening in your mental life, in your relational life, or even in your neuronal life….”

For more, get Dr. Siegel’s book ”Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” (Bantam, 2010) (see http://www.drdansiegel.com/books/mindsight/).  Also check out his Mindsight Institute at http://www.drdansiegel.com/about/mindsight/.2

What immediately blew me away was how Siegel used mindsight to work with a  ninety-two year old lawyer who came into Siegel’s office with half a brain (Lawyer? Was that a no-brainer?)  Siegel completely rewired the man.

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About the Author

Kathy Brous Technical writer and author of the upcoming book Don’t Try This at Home: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder –  How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all. Raised on Long Island, New York, Kathy survived a 30-year career in the fast lanes of New York City and Washington DC.  Starting on Wall Street researching South African gold stocks, she was an international economist for 18 years, using her Japanese language skills to write and consult on U.S.-Japan trade and finance.  In Washington, she became a technical writer, producing complex documents for Pentagon subcontractors, her line for the last 12 years, while pursuing her hobby as an opera singer. She was busy flying around the world instead of having children and building a family. Suddenly in 2007, Kathy faced divorce from her 27-year marriage to her college sweetheart, leaving her bankrupt.  A move to California was followed by the death of both her parents and then two bad rebound affairs – five life disasters in two years. Those crises started her down a path of discovery and healing that she is now able to share with others.

Kathy’s “News Blogs” expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME:  The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.”  Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

 

Footnotes

Daniel J. Siegel, MD, http://www.drdansiegel.com is clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine on the faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development and founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center.  He is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute. He is also Founding Editor for the Norton Professional Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology which contains over three dozen textbooks.

  1. Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains,” National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), www.nicabm.com; 2010 Webcast and my first NICABM webinar, downloaded March 31, 2011. Rebroadcast October 11, 2011. http://www.nicabm.com/nicabmblog/meditation-medication/ andhttp://www.nicabm.com/mindfulness-2011-new/
  2. Siegel, Daniel J., MD“Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” Bantam Books, 2010

Must-read interview:
Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “Early childhood and the developing brain,” on “All in the Mind,” ABC Radio National, Radio Australia, June 24, 2006 at:www.abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/stories/2006/1664985.htm

Books by Dan Siegel: 
–”The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are,” (Guilford, 1999). How attachment in infancy and childhood creates the brain and the mind.
–”Healing Trauma: Attachment, Mind, Body, and Brain,” Marion F Solomon, Daniel J Siegel, editors,  New York, NY:  W.W. Norton and Company;  2003.   357pg  Reviewed by Hilary Le Page, MBBS at:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2553232/
–”The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being,” (Norton, 2007)
–”The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician’s Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration,” (Norton, 2010)
–”Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” (Bantam, 2010)
–”Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive,” (Tarcher/Penguin, 2003) with Mary Hartzell
–”The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind,” (Random House, 2011) with Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D
–”Brainstorm: Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain,”  (Tarcher, 2013)

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July 18, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Dan Siegel on Explicit Memory

Dr. Daniel J. Siegel uses his “hand model” of the brain to show school kids, and the rest of us, how we need all three of the brain’s main parts to be working, and to work together.  Say the wrist is the spinal cord.  Then the palm represents the reptilian brain stem, the thumb is the emotional limbic brain, and the fingers are the thinking frontal cortex.

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July 11, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Dan Siegel on Re-Membering

Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, MD (far left) introduced me to brain science, and I write about brain scientists like him ‘cos they saved my life. Without them, I’d still be a successful, all-head talk technical writer for Pentagon sales.  I’d be unaware of my childhood attachment trauma, unable to feel my past, dissociated, and miserable with anxiety.  My cholesterol would still be over 240, my kidneys headed for failure.

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July 4, 2014 by Sandra Steingard, MD

Why I Became a Critical Psychiatrist

Sandra_Steingard_MDI was asked to give a talk to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Vermont. This is a program that offers courses and programs for adult learners – mostly people who are retired. I decided to title my presentation, “Why I Became a Critical Psychiatrist,” thinking that the kind of Vermonter who would attend something like this was intelligent and well-educated but not necessarily familiar with psychiatry. I imagined that this might be a person who believes in science and modern medicine and assumes that the advances in my profession that are often widely promoted in the media were sound.

The talk explains my own evolution as a psychiatrist and addresses the development of the Critical Psychiatry Network. I focus on three main areas: psychiatric diagnosis, the influence of the commercial forces of the pharmaceutical industry on medicine in general and psychiatry in particular, and the evolution of the use of neuroleptic drugs (in that order). It is a long talk (~ 90 minutes), so if you are only interested in some of these topics you can skip around to find them.

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June 27, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Allan Schore: What is the “Self”?

Allan Schore 2

In March 2013, I was standing unknown in a crowd of professors and therapists at a UCLA conference and noticed a quiet gentleman on my right.  I’d seen his photo online.  “Dr. Schore?” I asked.  “Yes,” said Allan Schore, turning calm eyes on me.

“I’m so grateful for all you’ve done to show that babies can’t control emotions, that’s the mother’s job to model, and emotions are ok,” I blurted,  suddenly in tears. “I’m writing a book on what it feels like on the inside, when we don’t get that as an infant.”

Dr. Schore didn’t flinch; his eyes grew wide with empathy. He got it.  He got a total stranger, right by the conference stage, got that I had walked through a hell of emotional pain to study this. He got that I was feeling love for him because he’s shown there’s a scientific reason for the pain.  He got that “emotions are ok” and only emotions from a caring other can heal this, so he gave me emotions: presence and compassion. On the spot. “We see it every day,” he said.

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June 20, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Readers Defend Van der Kolk

Bessel van der Kolk pic Trauma CenterI had the most comments ever last week, as readers spoke up to defend Dr. Bessel van der Kolk (left) and his ideas about somatic (body) healing for trauma, after the sideswipes against science by the New York Times May 22.  But the comments section got buried under all the footnotes I had to put in my letter to the Times to document their ignorance, so I’m posting the comments here where they’re easy to find.

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June 13, 2014 by Kathy Brous

What Trauma-Informed Care Means to Me

IMAG3258 James, kid, bike“Rider for Change” James Encinas arrived by mountain bike at San Diego’s Cherokee Point Elementary May 2 to the delight of some hundred students, and visitors from around southern California. James, a career LA school teacher, is riding 3,000 miles from Sacramento to Philadelphia. He’ll take the southern route through Texas and Louisiana, then follow the Underground Railway by which African Americans escaping slavery crossed north to freedom.

James is riding to draw national attention to the need for “trauma-informed schools,” key to the movement for “Trauma-Informed Care (TIC)” in education, health, and all public systems. But what is Trauma-Informed Care, and what’s a trauma-informed school?  (Hint: all the pix in this blog are from Cherokee Point).

“In medicine, a patient is sent to hospice when all medical procedures have failed, and they’re going to die. That says: we give care and comfort only when nothing else works,” notes Dr. Christopher Germer, psychology prof at Harvard Medical School and co-editor of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy.  Pretty crazy right there, if you consider. Been in a hospital lately? Often you’re a widget; they take your clothes away, don’t tell you what’s happening, and so on.1

IMAG3250 James, Dana Mom w. FoodBut when treating the real human being, “Care Equals Cure,” says Dr. Germer. If a therapist doesn’t care, he’s not going to cure his client. But it’s also true in any dealings with humans. “Care IS the practice of non-resistance to suffering which dismantles emotional suffering,” says Germer. “It means opening to emotional pain more fully, instead of trying to bypass it. Compassion opens the heart, reveals inner suffering, and makes the suffering available for transformation.” (Above: James and activists carry food donated for kids.)

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June 6, 2014 by Kathy Brous

In Defense of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

Bessel van der Kolk portrait by Matthew Woodson

Bessel van der Kolk illustration by Matthew Woodson for the New York Times.

The New York Times May 22 spotlighted Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, MD, and his idea that to change the way we heal a traumatized mind, start with the body. [http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/van-der-kolk-ny-times/] (Dr. van der Kolk portrait by Matthew Woodson for the Times.)

But the Times, as usual, had its own slant, some of it not cricket. So here’s the letter I wrote to the Times about the gnarly innuendos they also threw in against Dr. van der Kolk. These are in fact innuendos against the science of how the human organism deals with trauma and how widespread trauma is these days.

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May 30, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Heal traumatized minds? Start with the body

Bessel-van-der-Kolk-by-Matthew-Woodson-NYT-5-22-14

“Bessel van der Kolk wants to change the way we heal a traumatized mind — by starting with the body,” reports Jeneen Interlandi in the New York Times Magazine May 22. It’s an unusually long feature on Dr. van der Kolk’s new approaches to healing trauma by group therapy, yoga, meditation, EMDR, and “rhythmic regulation” – like those I’ve been reporting. See http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/developmental-trauma/  and http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/developmental-trauma-3/

“Trauma has nothing whatsoever to do with cognition,” van der Kolk says. “It has to do with your body being reset to interpret the world as a dangerous place.” That reset begins in the deep recesses of the brain with its most primitive structures (brain stem), regions that, he says, no cognitive therapy (frontal cortex) can access.

“It’s not something you can talk yourself out of.”

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May 23, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Dr. Bruce Perry, MD, “Born for Love: Why Empathy is Endangered – and Essential”

Address to National Council for Behavioral Health, Washington, DC, May 4, 2014

“Empathy is what makes us human,” says brain scientist Dr. Bruce Perry, MD  –  but this has not sunk in for Americans.  If simple kindness isn’t enough, what about the minor fact that it’s brain science?  Or that by ignoring this basic fact, we’re violating biology, so we’re dying as a species?

To let Dr. Perry make his point, today I’ve just got a few quotes from his May 4 Washington DC address, to provoke you to watch the video kindly posted by the National Council for Behavioral Health.

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