Many people believe that mental and emotional problems are genetic. This is not strictly accurate. We now know that the parenting environment (and indeed, the overall environment as well) in which a child grows up releases different chemicals in the brain that lead to certain genetic expressions. This is called “epigenetics” (i.e., the study of how our environment impacts the development of genetic traits). Different parenting environments literally release different chemical responses in the child’s brain leading to different genes being expressed and different traits being developed. We no longer can meaningfully talk about nature vs. nurture. The discussion has evolved from this to be more about how the dialog between nature and nurture ultimately results in certain traits and behaviors being expressed.Share
–So, if I don’t have one or more of these qualities, how do I get them?
The techniques a therapist uses in counseling–including the therapeutic relationship itself–have been shown by neuroimaging studies to actually heal physical damage to the social brain and promote healthy brain functioning. For instance, cognitive-behavioral techniques help the brain develop healthy top-down/left-right integration so that I can both understand and control my emotions more effectively. Mindfulness-based approaches to therapy–which promote a person’s ability to observe themselves from a healthy, third person perspective–have been shown to enhance insight, emotional regulation, and whole-brain functioning. Relationship-based therapies and spiritually-based therapies have been shown to promote empathy, moral functioning, and attuned communication especially. The therapeutic relationship itself–rooted as it is in radical acceptance, affirmation and gentle correction–is a milieu that promotes healing of wounded attachment bonds.
Thanks to the development of empirically-based interventions (i.e., techniques rooted in research rather than philosophy), well-trained therapists have a clearer sense of what therapeutic techniques promote each of the nine components of mental health. As research develops, mental health professionals will be able to make even clearer connections between the specific techniques in their toolbox and the specific mental skills a client needs to heal psychological wounds and promote optimal mental health. (Read more.)