In the past, experts believed that neurological growth stopped in early adulthood, but the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology, pioneered by Daniel Siegel, has demonstrated otherwise. Neuroplasticity research confirms that the formation of new neurons and neurological links continues throughout the lifespan and can be cultivated with specific experiences and practices.
The carefully crafted environment in the therapy office allows clients to engage in emotionally corrective experiences, as they are guided to relate to themselves in a new way, and engage with the therapist openly, allowing in the attunement, unconditional positive regard, curiosity and when necessary, warm challenge. Interpersonal relationships shape our brains from infancy to old age, and an IBNP therapist is trained in the art of creating a neuroception of safety which “inspires the brain to rewire”. Many people simply could not become fully themselves in childhood, as they did not receive enough undivided attention, curiosity, understanding, and support. Belonging and selfhood are birthed when we feel “felt and welcome”. In the absence of being received in this way, there is a sense of being hollow, disoriented, on the outside, irrelevant. Our culture often describes this state of alienation and angst as anxiety and depression, but it often remits in the presence of connection and care. It is not enough that our bodies were adequately cared for–development of genuine personhood requires that we be reached for by another. That our soul and spirit be received in connection.
Together, Sara and the client form an alliance which finally fulfills the developmental need to be seen, felt, heard, celebrated, and supported. This results in a deep seated sense of self, of belonging, and of mattering. With this solid foundation in place, the pleasures and challenges of realizing one’s full potential in adulthood can robustly begin.
Neuroplasticity from above
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form new connections—as well as eliminate old ones—throughout the lifespan. Previously, it was believed that the neural connections of the brain were fixed by a certain age. Modern research has now established that the brain continues to develop and rewire itself throughout life by altering individual cells and neural connections, as well as structural changes that can occur as a result of experience, illness, or injury. In a process called Synaptic pruning, the brain eliminates neural connections that are no longer being used and rewires and strengthens those that are frequently used.
Partners lose neural networks in childhood due to neglect of any kind, or under stimulation, or environments which were experienced as dangerous. Neuroplasticity is extremely helpful in couples counselling because it confirms that development missed in earlier stages of life can be earned in adulthood. Engaging in deliberate new actions will induce new experiences which are capable of rewiring and newly firing neurological networks which were never birthed or which became dormant through lack of use. Couples are guided to actively engage in relational practices that constitute new interpersonal brain capacity. Perhaps the most important relational capacity that can be cultivated is the neuroception of safety, which allows the experience of connection, support and love.