The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy – Professor Oliver Turnbull, PhD
This lecture surveys the parts of the brain-mind that are at the heart of psychotherapy. It begins with a brief survey of the basic emotion systems, including their anatomy and chemistry. Examples include the separation between ‘wanting’ and ‘liking’, a distinction which can be very helpful clinically. This literature also suggests that these emotion systems are ‘ancient’ (in evolutionary terms), that they are based on a wide range of subcortical brain regions, and that they appear to be evolutionarily conserved – certainly across mammals (and probably other vertebrate species). The literature also suggests the role of these emotion systems in recreational drug use, and in the pharmacotherapies that are at the heart of organic psychiatry.
These findings therefore bring together several elements of the neuroscience of mental health, in a way which is scientifically very satisfying, and suggests genuine progress in the field.
Finally, the lecture focuses on the neuropsychology of emotion regulation, showing which brain areas are responsible for skills that underpin psychotherapy. This includes key therapeutic abilities such as reappraisal and response modulation, and also the role of emotion in decision-making and delusional beliefs. Notably, these findings allow us to investigate the way that therapeutic experience and outcome are altered (or not) after brain injury, suggesting that a genuine ‘neuroscience of psychotherapy’ is within our grasp: an inter-discipline which has important clinical implications for how we design and implement treatment.