Saturday, June 23, 2012

Athena Staik, Ph.D. - Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain With Your Mind and Conscious Action

Dr. Athena Staik offers a regular column at Psych Central - Neuroscience and Relationships - on neuroscience, relationships, and methods of rewiring the brain. In this particular entry, she offers a four-step model for rewiring the brain through conscious attention and action.

The model she offers here is based on the work of UCLA neuroscientist Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, who developed this "cognitive-biobehavioral self-treatment" in working with OCD clients (obsessive-compulsive disorder [the Axis I disorder, not the Axis II personality disorder, which is quite different]). This program is to be performed by the client between sessions with the therapist.

Dr. Staik adapts this model for use in a variety of other situations where intrusive thoughts are a problem, something I see daily in those who suffer from PTSD. It's mostly a cognitive-behavioral model, but as an adjunct to more depth-oriented sessions with a therapist, this is a very useful tool.


True, the mystery and complexity of the mind and brain may remain an ever present reality. Thanks in large part to advanced methods of studying the brain, however, recent findings in neuroscience have come a long way to unravel numerous puzzles.

Safe to say, many operations of the brain and body are governed by scientific laws as real as the Law of Gravity. Unquestionably, there is less mystery.

One of the laws discovered by recent findings is the ability of the brain to restructure and heal itself throughout life. This discovery alone tossed out centuries of scientific creeds, which previously held that we cannot do much about the damage caused by trauma and certain set patterns such as those labeled mental or behavioral “disorders.”

Known as neuroplasticity, findings show you have an innate ability to restructure the gray matter of your brain, literally speaking, with your mind and conscious action. When you change what you think, say or do in response to an event or situation, you change inner emotional states. As emotions are molecules that transmit the “what” to fire and wire” messages, whenever your felt experience of an event changes, accordingly, this physically restructures the gray matter of your brain.

More and more, psychological treatment is less guesswork and mystery, and more application of proven science.

Even deeply entrenched behavior problems, such as addictions, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have been shown to respond to treatment that follows proven methods of rewiring the brain by altering current thought-response patterns. For OCD, for example, neuroscientist Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz has developed four steps in a ‘response prevention” cognitive-biobehavioral approach.

It makes sense. Most emotional issues have to do with rigid patterns of thinking associated with the body’s fear response.

What follows are  four steps to rewire your brain to think and feel a different way, which can be applied to enhance your behavior or thought patterns overall. With more serious issues, seek the support of a professional.

Dr. Staik offers these four steps - based on the OCD model but made more universal to be applicable in a variety of situations - that are discussed in more detail at the original post:
1. See your automatic response patterns as learned brain-strategies.
2. Re-frame a behavior as a problem located outside of who you are as a person.
3. Set clear life vision to refocus your energies on what you consciously prioritize and most value.
4. Take action to express your commitment to this new priority or value.
By way  of comparison, here are the four steps as presented by the UCLA group - and you can read a much more detailed article on they work with OCD at this link.


Recognize that the intrusive obsessive thoughts and urges are the RESULT OF OCD.

Realize that the intensity and intrusiveness of the thought or urge is CAUSED BY OCD; it is probably related to a biochemical imbalance in the brain.

Work around the OCD thoughts by focusing your attention on something else, at least for a few minutes: DO ANOTHER BEHAVIOR.

Do not take the OCD thought at face value. It Is not significant in itself.
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