Understanding the Brain: It’s Harder For Some of Us

I’ve been wanting to write about the brain for a while—but my brain keeps getting in the way. I mean, it’s The Brain. Understanding the brain is hard. And what can you say about it that people with better brains haven’t already said?

The thing is, it’s important as a therapist to understand how the brain works and how it affects mental health issues and treatment. More and more professional workshops have been offered recently on this very topic. I’ve been attending some of them.

The two most recent:

  • Brain-Based Therapy: Evidence-Based Mental Health Treatment from Neuroscience and Attachment Theory (John Arden, Ph.D.)
  • How the Brain Forms New Habits: Why Willpower Isn’t Enough (Bill M. Kelley, Ph.D.)

Even workshops I’ve attended that haven’t specifically been about understanding the brain—for example, on the topics of ADHD, PTSD, Severe Psychiatric Disorders, etc.—have involved significant lessons regarding the brain’s involvement in these conditions.

All good, interesting topics. Then, why oh why, when focusing so much of my therapist-like attention on these informative speakers, is something like this John Cleese lecture the only thing I tend to hear?

In all fairness, Dr. Kelley, the presenter of one of the aforementioned workshops on understanding the brain, told us right off the bat—before starting in on the parts of the brain and what they do—that we didn’t really have to get it. Or even try to get it. Get what all the parts are, that is, and what they’re responsible for. I appreciated that he got that we don’t tend to get it. Something about the way his brain works.

He wanted us to learn other things about brain functioning, like “why willpower isn’t enough to form new habits.” And I did learn some stuff. Like the answer, by the way, to that specific question, which was…

Well, I’m pretty sure it had something to do with neurotransmitters, and the basal ganglia, and the frontal lobes, and…you know—stuff like that. Because I learned about those things. And there were a lot of those things.

And one other of those things that I think I definitely now know for sure—I didn’t really get it.

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