Neuroplasticity therapy for mental illness

Adult neuroplasticity = a new “cure” for major depression?

Neuroplasticity involves synaptic reorganization in response to environmental stressors and is thought to underlie our abilities to regulate, learn and remember.

The good news is that some treatments for depression seem to be able to stop the damage and maybe even repair it. The even better news is that research on neuroplasticity has shown us that “your everyday behaviors can have measurable effects on brain structure and function,” which can provide healing and recovery in psychiatric disorders(Hellerstein, 2011).

Other informative articles on the same subject:

What neuroplasticity is and why it is important for mental health

Can we influence neuroplasticity?

When it comes to mental disorders, there is a kind of negative neuroplasticity: depression can cause damage to the brain, encouraging unhealthy and maladaptive pathways and discouraging healthy and adaptive ones(Hellerstein, 2011). Thus, in mental disorders maladaptive neuroplasticity contributes to the persistence of symptoms such as rumination, anhedonia and others. By harnessing corrective neuroplasticity, it may be possible to reprogram maladaptive behaviour and produce long-lasting remission. In this regard, there is evidence that both pharmacologically stimulating antidepressant approaches and brain stimulation can work by inducing beneficial, corrective neuroplasticity to mediate remission.

Increasingly, antidepressant effects on neuroplasticity are being shown to correlate with behavioral improvement in both humans and animal models, raising the possibility that neuroplasticity offers a new avenue for depression research. However, learning how to harness this capacity to improve recovery remains a challenge.

It may not be easy, and it may take effort, but we have the ability to “reshape” our brains at any age in ways that can help us function better.

Neuroplasticity is impaired in depressive disorders. In both human and animal models, brain stimulation treatment induces regional increases in grey matter volume that are associated with antidepressant response. These changes in brain volume involve structural mechanisms of neuroplasticity, such as dendritic spinogenesis, synaptic reorganization or axonal sprouting or regrowth. In humans, antidepressant medication, brain stimulation or a combination of these can stimulate adult neuroplasticity to mediate recovery in depressive disorders.


Using Neuroplasticity to help with anxiety

The same principles apply to managing and treating anxiety disorders – our brains are also perfectly capable of ‘rewiring’ and ‘remodelling’ to improve our ability to manage anxiety.

However, according to life coach and clinician Ian Cleary (2015):

“Any brain changes are at the expense of other changes. Developing those parts of our brains that trigger anxiety smoothly, is at the expense of those that help calm and trust … it’s not enough to stop anxiety at a moment’s notice, which is often the focus of people’s attention. The anxiety cord is still there waiting to be triggered. We need to create competitive cabling. We need to create wiring specific to what we want to achieve, which is “competitive wiring” to the problem. Without it, we enjoy endless anxiety, with no neural pathway to move us forward.”
Basically, neuroplasticity can be applied to help you manage, treat and maybe even “cure” anxiety, but it takes some time, effort and help from specialists! These changes of a permanent nature can be achieved by adapting and changing thinking patterns, retreating and shaping memory, breathing exercises, eye shaping, changing postural habits, increasing body awareness and targeting sensory perception (Cleary, 2015).

8 Neuroplasticity exercises for anxiety and depression

There aren’t many neuroplasticity exercises designed specifically for depression, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something about it.

All of these activities and exercises – many of which you’ll recognise from traditional depression-fighting advice – have been found to improve neuroplasticity and can be helpful in coping with depression:

1.Perform tasks and memory games
2.Learn to juggle;
3. Learn to play a new musical instrument
4. Learn (another) foreign language

5.Do Yoga
6.Exercise regularly at light to moderate intensity
7. Try brain-challenging activities such as crosswords or sudoku
8.Learn a new subject – especially a complex one – in a short period of time

Chronic pain and neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity may also play an important role in helping people manage and treat chronic pain. After all, pain itself is experienced as a set or sequence of neural stimulations – if we can change the way our brains are wired, what is stopping us from changing the experience of pain?

A recent study on the subject found that there are at least four ways to help your brain adapt to and manage chronic pain:

1. Transcranial electrical stimulation (info)
2. Transcranial magnetic stimulation
3. Intermittent fasting (periods of fasting followed by periods of normal feeding);
4. Glucose supplementation (taking glucose supplements to replace what we lose due to normal aging)

(Sibille, Fartsch, Reddy, Fillingim, & Keil, 2016).

In addition to these more intense treatments, there are many things you can do to apply the principles of neuroplasticity to your own experience with pain, and the good news is that most of them are things we should all do to become healthier!

6 Neuroplasticity exercises for treating chronic pain

These six practices and exercises have been shown to be helpful in coping with chronic pain, and all have the ability to influence how our brain’s neural networks receive and translate the pain message:

1.Do sport regularly
2.Eat healthy
3. If you smoke, kick the habit

4.Keep your mind active, engaged and challenged
5.Apply relaxation techniques to keep stress at bay
6. Practice Mindfulness Meditation

(Irving, 2016)

Neuroplasticity-based therapy in OCD, ADHD, Autism

Methods of using neuroplasticity to treat ADHD, OCD and autism largely reflect play-based methods, activities and programmes designed around neuroplasticity principles to help people and children with a wide range of problems and impairments. They all relate to the same general themes: learning new things, being open to new experiences and new activities, consciously adapting and changing your thinking patterns, and using science-backed techniques to challenge yourself.

Brain rewiring to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Methods of using neuroplasticity to treat ADHD, OCD and autism largely reflect play-based methods, activities and programmes designed around neuroplasticity principles to help people and children with a wide range of problems and impairments. They all relate to the same general themes: learning new things, being open to new experiences and new activities, consciously adapting and changing your thinking patterns, and using science-backed techniques to challenge yourself.

An innovative therapy, based on mindfulness meditation to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, suggests that the adult brain also has neuroplasticity.

Schwartz explained that people with OCD engage in a wide variety of problematic behaviors – compulsive hand washing, opening doors, repetitive checking of ovens and doors, even repeating the same word, the same phrase. The cause, at a neurological level, is hyperconnectivity between two brain regions, the orbitofrontal cortex and the caudate nucleus, creating a wave of deadly, unfounded fear and triggering a habitual response as the only way to achieve calm. But the worst part is that despite acknowledging that all these thoughts and behaviours are irrational, the OCD sufferer feels driven to obey them.


Now that the neural circuitry of OCD has been identified, researchers have been able to test various therapies. Using imaging technologies such as PET, they were able to see if a particular treatment was tempering the “fire” in the brain.

In this sense, OCD reflects a key aspect of mindfulness meditation – giving the patient a perspective detached from their own thoughts. Schwartz speculated that this awareness could enable a mindfulness-based treatment strategy. After all, if the point of mindfulness is to turn contemptuously away from all our ideas and impulses, couldn’t an OCD patient use mindfulness to step back from even his or her fears and compulsions? Perhaps mindfulness could help redirect the OCD circuitry in the brain.

The Role of Mindfulness Meditation in Neuroplasticity

Proponents of mindfulness meditation have long thought that meditation can actually cause physical changes in the brain; as it turns out, they were right! Mindfulness meditation can actually change the brain through neuroplasticity.
Based on the above research, mindfulness meditation has the ability to reduce the size of the amygdala and increase the size of the prefrontal cortex in the brain. This leads to decreased emotional reactivity and improved decision-making skills, as well as increased emotional stability.

Stop being mindfull and start being mindful!

The fact that you are mindfullmeans that you are too reactive or overwhelmed by what is happening around you.

To be mindfulis the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where you are and what you are doing. It is a state of mind achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique in the beginning, but with the intention of becoming a lifestyle where you can be in a much lower stress level because you have relearned and “replanted your roots”.

Mindfulness meditation can actually change the brain through neuroplasticity.

Jessica Cassity writes this about mindfulness meditation and neuroplasticity:

“With meditation, your brain is effectively redirected: as your feelings and thoughts shift to a more pleasant perspective, your brain transforms, making this way of thinking more achievable…. The more your brain changes through meditation, the more you will react to everyday life with the same sense of calm, compassion and awareness. “

The more we become attentive and meditate, the more our brain adapts to this state and it becomes our permanent state. This is why mindfulness meditation has such a big impact on those who practice meditation frequently, even outside of their dedicated practice time; they have trained their brains to be aware, calm, at peace and focused throughout the day, not just when they are actively meditating.


1.Our brains continue to produce new cells every day of our lives.
2.Connections between neurons can be strengthened to prevent damage.
3.The brain can form complex synapses throughout life.
4. There is no time limit on brain repair. Previously, the time limit for brain recovery was thought to be no more than a year after injury; research has shown that the brain can be repaired even months and years after injury if the right intervention is applied. The question is “what are the right interventions?”

5.Brain repair mechanisms share common elements between diseases, injuries and age-related declines. For example, active cognitive stimulation can help build new connections after traumatic brain injury, stroke, during normal ageing and even in progressive brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
6. Advances in brain imaging technology allow us to visualise changes in the activation of brain regions that occur at the very moment we acquire new knowledge.

(Irving, 2016)


Psychologist, psychotherapist and psychiatrist, what do I choose?

Have you ever wondered where to turn when your mind and emotions seem to be in an endless maze? You are not alone! Understanding the differences between a psychologist, psychotherapist and psychiatrist is key to knowing who to choose based on your specific needs. So, let’s solve this puzzle together!

Emotional blackmail – how do you recognize it, how do you fight it?

Emotional blackmail is a form of subtle manipulation whereby the manipulator attempts to influence or control the target person through psychological and emotional pressure in order to get them to act in a certain way, to the detriment of their own interests and well-being. Emotional blackmail usually works in closer relationships (parent-child, family, couple, friendships), because the manipulator uses the meaning of the relationship and often tries to create feelings of (unjustified) guilt to get what he wants.

Depression: multidisciplinary approach and innovative solutions

Depression does not have a single cause, but is the result of a complex interaction between external and internal factors. Understanding these influences and addressing them in an integrated way is key to treating depression. A holistic treatment plan, which includes both psychological therapy and the management of environmental and medical factors, can bring relief and support to those affected by this difficult but common mental disorder.

Neurological and mental disorders – comparison, common points

Mental disorders occur at a very high rate in neurological pathologies and affect a large part of the world’s population. To date, 14 types of major neurological disorders are known, with a clinical picture similar to that of psychiatric diseases and disorders, which occur as a result of damage to the human brain or as a result of the development of neurological diseases.

terapia cu pisici beneficii sanatatea mintala

Cat therapy – myth or reality

Studies from all over the world also support scientifically what we – intuitively – have perceived: the company of cats is a real help in everyday life, and even more so for people with disorders or conditions such as depression or anxiety. We have summarized for you in the following lines the 10 most important mental health benefits that come with furry friends:.

vindecarea copilului interior

Healing the inner child to regain happiness and balance

The inner child represents all our good and not-so-good experiences that were formed in childhood along with the attachment figures and contexts of the time. These experiences are subconscious and represent the fears and difficulties felt during that period of development together with the positive experiences lived at that time,

terapie de cuplu

About dependency and independence in relationships – health vs. toxicity in couples

A huge challenge facing many couples today is finding a balance between dependence – the need for the other person – and independence – supporting and focusing on our own interests. Where and how do we find the fine line that separates healthy attachment and normal, natural dependence from the tendency to spend a lot of time away from our partner, with interests and concerns that do not include them?

echilibru intre job si viata personala

Work – life balance – can we find the balance between personal life and work?

There was a time when the boundaries between work and home life were clear. In today’s society, work often takes precedence over everything else in our lives. Our desire to succeed professionally can push us to set aside our own well-being. We tend to fall into the trap of thinking that we can be productive all the time or that an eight-hour day at work equals eight hours of being productive. However, this is difficult, if not impossible, for many of us.

Depression and its management in the family

What to do when a loved one is experiencing depression? What NOT to do when you want to help someone with depression? When a member of our family or a close friend suffers from depression it is challenging for everyone, but depression is treatable and emotional and social support greatly improves treatment outcomes.

Mental disorders and personality disorders – definitions, comparison/limits, examples, therapeutic approach

Mental disorders and personality disorders are two distinct categories of psychological disorders that significantly affect an individual’s mental state and behaviour. Although they have different characteristics and symptoms, both can cause significant difficulties in a person’s daily life and require therapeutic intervention.

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