WHAT NEUROSCIENCE TEACHES US ABOUT ADD, BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS AND OTHER
Jerome A. Price, MA, LMSW, LMFT
What is PLASTICITY? When a person has a stroke, the portion of the brain that controls a specific bodily function is permanently damaged. For example, a person many have limited ability to speak after the stroke. Despite the damage being permanent, through speech therapy the person often regains a significant portion of their ability to speak. Likewise, physical therapy may help a patient to regain the ability to walk or use a hand. The nerves are permanently damaged yet the person regains functioning. This happens due to plasticity of the brain.
The brain has the miraculous ability to accommodate damage by using other parts of the brain to do what the damaged part can no longer do. It literally builds new neural pathways that take over that function. They accomplish this when the patient is coached to repeat the damaged function repeatedly thereby sending signals to the brain.
The same principal applies to emotional functioning. If a client is suffering from inability to attend and focus, repeated attempts to focus results in the building of new neural pathways for focus. If a person with difficulties with obsessions and worries is led and coached to practice taking control of repetitive thoughts their brain builds the ability to do so.
Likewise, a problem with impulse control will improve when the person is coached or required to force themselves to control impulses. With each attempt to control one's impulses new neural pathways are developed for self-control. We can then apply this same principal to any emotional problem including taking control of one's substance abuse.
It's unclear whether these abilities are learned neurologically when they are stimulated by medication rather than practice. If the medication leads the person to do the repeated behaviors or thought processes that lead to the development of new neural pathways, then clearly they benefit. However, if they lead the person to not do the work because they experience relief from symptoms, then it's not as clear whether the long-term benefits will be gained.