Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Neural Path Therapy (Part 1)

In terms of my own search for wellness, I'm fairly sure the brain is the key to everything. So, when I saw a book called Neural Path Therapy: How to Change Your Brain's Response to Anger, Fear, Pain & Desire, I was hooked. And the fact it was co-authored by David Harp, M.A. (He uses the harmonica to teach stress reduction training as well as creativity training and peak performance training) was the final selling point. I have bought two other books by David on music and playing the blues harmonica, and I think he's wonderful. The other co-author is Matthew McKay, Ph.D. and he's the co-author of The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook.

While I've only read about half the book, it's already had a huge impact. The point they make, which is critical to me, is that you can change "automaticity." This is such an important concept that I need to explain it further in relationship to bipolar disorder.

One of the key arguments psychiatrists use when they say you can't "cure" bipolar disorder is "brain kindling," which I've discussed before. Basically it means that after a few depressive episodes, whenever you get stressed, your brain automatically will respond the same way to the same triggers.

I've always found this argument to be depressing, because what they are suggesting that even if you change significantly, your brain won't change. But Harp and McKay disagree. They write, "The crucial mental skill is to be able to focus attention onto--or away from--the thought, or neural path of your choice."

What they believe is that you can learn how to observe neural pathways and change them. They say that if you stop using the same neural pathways (i.e. your supervisor always demeans you and as a result you feel powerless, or your sister pushes your hot buttons and as a result you get angry), they will fall into disuse.

Thus, if your supervisor says, "I don't like the copy you've written or the way you edited this article," rather than feeling powerless (and becoming depressed), you can anticipate she will say this, identify that it always makes you feel powerless, and stop feeling depressed.

What this means is that you can train your brain to stop kindling! How do you do it? By breathing exercises. While it sounds simplistic, it's truly a powerful tool. I've already begun using it, and it works!

P.S. I just learned there a Neural Path Therapy site, which provides a lot of additional information. So I've listed it on both posts on this topic.
(more to come)


Gianna said...

Hey Susan,
excellent stuff...this is closely related to brain neuroplasticity which I try to talk about as often as possible on my blog...the brain can and does heal and change...sometimes it takes effort but it does indeed happen and all sorts of stuff can be healed...and structure literally changed.

If anyone is interested if you go to my blog and do a search Itop right corner) for neuroplasicity you can learn what I've learned so far...

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
I'll check this out on your blog today. It's interesting that we're both so excited about the same wellness activity. A few years ago, I had read a few books on the brain and was convinced that if I could change my brain patterns, I could change my life. But the authors didn't offer any techniques.

However, this breathing concept, which I already had begun using to reduce stress, is great. This is truly the field I plan on exploring further.


P.J. said...

Since being diagnosed as bipolar, I think I've trained my brain a lot!! I'm beginning to know what makes me fly off the deep end, and I find myself taking a break, closing my eyes, and breathing purposefully until I get a grip. I know what triggers other brain responses, and I try to avoid them or, when I can't avoid, I am AWARE of what is happening and I work through it instead of swallowing it. The faster I get things dealt with, the better my life is.

Before, I would hold it in, get angry about it and let it take over my life for a few days, until the rapid cycle was over.

Joyce Meyer has a great series called "Battlefield of the Mind." It comes in a devotional, a study, and a workbook. These are great books for training your mind to think positively and overcome some of the 'natural' responses and ruts we get stuck in.

Coco said...

I'm looking forward to hearing more. My Dr. G. has given me info to look into on neuroplasticity, which I've been finding an exciting and fascinating topic (must look at what you have on your site about it btw, gianna), and I'm intrigued to hear more about 'automaticity', and how the breathing excercises can stop the brain kindling. I have a feeling this is all a very good direction to be looking in.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear P.J.,
Thanks for the reference. I wish I had realized the importance of all this years ago. But, I, too, am now breathing to relieve stress and I can't believe it's so easy and effective!


Bradley said...

I agree, stopping, breathing and focusing helps dramatically in a stressful and potentially depressing situation.

It seems possible that they brain responds the same way, however, we are able to control that response.

You have me interested in the book and I may just go buy it soon.

Gianna said...

I use breathing too! I've been using it for years...but now I'm doing it more intentionally.

Yogi's have been on to this for thousands of years...

Pranayama practice is all about healing breath work.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Coco,
I think it is. I'll try to explain it in tomorrow's post. Harp's version of this is different than meditation and yoga, but it's just right for me.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Bradley,
I bought it from my new Bipolar Wellness Store on Amazon (see left margin; I think I make a dime off each book, smiling face) for $10.17 and there are used copies too.

What's great about this for me is that I couldn't seem to get into meditation or yoga or David Harp speaks to me in a different way. It's only 148 pages and it's easy and fun.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
I had been using it too, but as I said in response to other comments, for some reason I just couldn't get into yoga or meditation. I had come up with my own system, but wasn't using it all the time.

But Harp's system works for me. I just bought the book last week, tried it the first night, and have been doing it every day.


Gianna said...

I don't use pranayama either... I think recycled versions of ancient wisdom is just fine for us modern folk! ;-)

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Isn't that the case?


Nancie said...

Dear Susan,

I found breathing exercises to be very useful too. I am still learning to remember to do it when necessary!

I believe it is possible to train our brain to react in more constructive ways to difficult challenges in our life so that they don't plunge us down into depression. It is not easy but with more awareness and determination, I am finding it helping me slowly.

Thanks for sharing your reading and findings in your search for wellness with us! It is surely helping many of us in wonderful ways. Take care.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Nancie,
I'm finding it difficult to remember as well. Suddenly, something stresses me, and my husband will say, "Remember to breathe." Not only do I forget to do the breathing method, but I forget to breathe entirely.

So...maybe, the reason why I used to get depressed is because I stopped breathing and no oxygen was getting to my brain. Just kidding!