When I started my psychologist journey, and when I started as a psychologist, skeptical people told me it’s of no use – it’s only talking. You cannot do anything by words, they told me. If you will do some serious business, you have to become a doctor and use some physical remedies – like pills, they told me. My uncle used to say that “it’s all chemical”.
Some people get inspired by such talk. Like me.
I tried to tell them that words can kill, words can heal, words can move mountains, words can change the structure of thing. But they would not listen.
As the years have passed, it has become more evident that I was right, and that they where wrong. Psychotherapy make changes in our brains. The way we think affects our body as well our emotions. The way we feel affects our thoughts as well as our body. The way our body works affects our thoughts as well our feelings.
There is no either this or that, it is both this and that.
Some decades ago taking pictures of the brain was painful and dangerous for the patients, and costly for the hospitals. Today we can study changes in the brain when they happen by using fMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging) and other new techniques. Techniques which do no harm and induce no other pain than a claustrophobic experience for a few.
Eric Kandel – Nobel Prize winner in 1998 – has shown that learning produces physical changes in the brain, and in the gene expression. (By the way, I highly recommend his self-biographical book “In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind”).
Psychotherapy is about learning. It is learning new ways to solve problems, and learning to discover new opportunities.
Several studies have been performed comparing the effects of psychotherapy and anti-depressive pills on depressive disorders. Both forms of therapy produce nearly the same changes in the brain, re-establishing “dead” connections among nerve cells, and even making new connections! (Some years ago the dominating thought was that the production of new brain cells in an “old” brain is impossible!).
There seems to be one important difference however: the changes made through psychotherapy is more lasting than the changes made by pills.
Aslak E Himle