What People in Utah should know about Neuroscience

What People in Utah should know about Neuroscience

Neuroscience is one of the big buzzwords in psychiatry and mental health, but if you’re not careful this buzz can turn into a bunch of noise. Given today’s media portrayals and marketing strategies, it’s all-too-easy to take on misconceptions that may hurt your understanding of mental disorders—whether it’s your own mental health at stake or someone you care about. Take a few minutes to read about the big picture surrounding the buzz and hopefully gain a better perspective of the conversation the next time you hear about the “amazing advances and wonders of brain science.”

What is Neuroscience, and how does it Relate to Mental Health?

In its simplest terms, neuroscience is the study of the nervous system. And while this human curiosity dates back to ancient times, the modern-day version arose in the 1970s with new brain-imaging technology and then solidified itself as a separate branch of scientific inquiry in the mid-1980s. It’s true that we’ve made incredible advances in describing the structures of the brain and its cellular substrate. But here’s the catch: Rarely is there a clear path from seeing which parts of the brain light up and which stay quiet to developing revolutionary cures for things like schizophrenia, depression, and other mental disorders. Put another way, what’s changed is what we’re able to study—not what we’re able to understand—about mental illness.

Popular Misconceptions about Neuroscience

With the media is today, it’s easy to think that the study of the brain and nervous system is going to lead to futuristic neural implants and newer prescription drugs that will cure serious mental illness overnight. And for certain neurological conditions, these treatments may yet become a reality. Today, however, it’s closer to the truth to say that neuroscience is providing more accurate and valid feedback on which treatments work and why. For this reason alone, neuroscience is an invaluable tool for directing future psychological research, but it’s nowhere near a cure-all for mental health.

Neuroscience is far from the only leader in mental health today. EMDR, one relatively new and promising therapy, was developed through clinical observation of eye movements and anxiety levels rather than, say, looking at an MRI or under a microscope. Moreover, the most recommended and effective treatment for a whole range of mental disorders continues to be some combination of cognitive and behavioral therapies delivered by a mental health therapist.

It’s also important to remember that dramatic results are themselves a mixed bag. For decades, some form of electro-convulsive therapy has been used to treat depression, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders, often with dramatic effects. Unfortunately, significant memory loss is a common side effect, and the benefits tend to wear off after some number of months.

Psychoeducation as Part of Getting Help

The everyday depiction of neuroscience is frequently distorted to destigmatize mental health conditions. A growing number of mental health organizations, for example, are branding mental disorders as “brain disorders” and “real medical conditions”—not because we suddenly have a comprehensive understanding of these conditions—but because many people are reluctant to seek therapy for something that’s “all in their head.”  And Utah is certainly no exception when it comes to this reluctance to ask for help.

Recognizing the factors that have led to a mental disorder can be a powerful resource in reducing the shame and anxiety that may keep someone from seeking help. Yet, when taken to the opposite extreme, a person may start to think that all they have to do is show up for therapy to be effective. In other words, just because it’s not your fault that you have a mental disorder doesn’t mean you’re powerless to change. Often times, the only way to get better is through months of behavioral changes and cognitive therapy. This is also why psychoeducation—learning about the nature of your mental disorder—is such a common part of mental health therapy.

Thus, what people in Utah need to know is that neuroscience can be a great ally when it comes to improving your mental health, but it’s no substitute for talking to a therapist and setting aside the time to work on your mental health. Whether it’s reducing psychological distress or overcoming a behavioral impairment, don’t hesitate to search for a qualified mental health professional in Utah.

Marcus Pickett

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