As long as I’ve been a therapist I’ve held that psychotherapy interventions should be rooted in an understanding of the biological systems that underlie mental and emotional well-being.
Professor Richard Davidson’s recent book, ‘The Emotional Life of Your Brain’ (co-authored with Sharon Begley), offers us a glimpse of a future in which mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are defined not in terms of their symptoms but rather which specific brain systems are out of balance or need to be strengthened. Such an understanding would naturally inform our choice of therapies.
Professor Davidson is a leading figure in the field of “affective neuroscience”, or the study of the brain mechanisms behind emotions. The book explores his theory of “emotional style”, a way of describing our emotional propensities based on a set of six dimensions, each representing a relatively independent trait and embodied in distinct brain circuits that can be measured objectively using the tools of neuroscience. Examples are resilience, or how quickly you recover from adverse events, and self-awareness in the sense of how well you perceive bodily sensations that reflect emotions. Continue reading