200 billion. That’s the number of nerve cells in the average human brain. But it doesn’t stop there—brain cells are connected to each other by hundreds of trillions of synapses. The complexity of the human brain is mind-boggling—literally! The pre-frontal cortex alone contains as many synapses as the number of stars it would take to fill 1,500 galaxies identical to the Milky Way.
A new brain-imaging model developed by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine now enables neuroscientists to explore the deep regions of the brain in more detail than ever before. Professor Stephen Smith, who led the study, reports “[finding] that the brain’s complexity is beyond anything they’d imagined, almost to the point of being beyond belief.” In fact, “A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth.”
As Christian counselors, the complexity of the human brain is just one more evidence of our masterful Creator God. The findings of neuroscience hold great potential to inform our practice and even shape therapeutic interventions in the counseling process. Understanding every client as a unique and complex human being, created by God’s loving and intelligent hands, we can draw from scientific findings to understand the beauty and intricate detail of the human mind in new ways.
Here’s a few of the latest headlines about your brain:
1. Psychological benefits found from mentally disengaging from work.
As a Christian caregiver, self-care is critical. While our desire to minister may be great, our brains can only handle so much without a break. A new study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science reports that “employees who experience more detachment from work during off-hours are more satisfied with their lives and experience fewer symptoms of psychological strain, without being less engaged while at work.” Even when working in a taxing job environment, emotional stress, drain and burnout can be avoided by learning to leave work at work, and cultivating meaningful relationships with family, friends and the Body of Christ.
2. Chronic stress linked with mood disorders and loss of brain plasticity.
Stress is the new “norm” in today’s world, but research suggests that chronic stress can change the brain’s wiring, the Huffington Post reports. Perpetual stress can make you more susceptible to mood disorders by blocking the neuritin gene. This gene holds the codes for a protein which “may protect the brain’s plasticity: its ability to reorganize and change in response to new experiences.” The Yale Study points out that “the hippocampus (the brain’s memory center) can shrink and atrophy in people with a history of depression and other mood disorders.” What does all this mean? Finding balance in your own life and helping your clients develop stress-management strategies are active steps to build brain health.
3. Heat waves can negatively affect mental health and increase suicide risk.
Suicide rates often skyrocket in late July and August, CBC News reports, and there’s a marked increase in irritability and aggression. Research suggests that the stress of the heat negatively impacts brain functioning. “Essentially, what’s occurring is that the neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain, are probably going off balance. When chemicals in the brain go off balance, it will cause difficulties in what the brain does,” Dr. Len Cortese explained. Whether it’s grouchiness, anxiety, mood disorders, or suicidal symptoms, this awareness is critical to keep in mind as you meet with clients this summer.
How easy it is in today’s techno-savvy world to look past the gift God has given us in our brains! “I praise you,” the psalmist cries out, “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Ps. 139: 14). God has created our brains with the amazing ability to influence every other aspect of our lives—physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and the list goes on. Science is now showing what we have known for a long time—that perpetual thought patterns and relational experiences actually have the power to rewire our brains—for good and bad.
How does neuroscience inform your work as a Christian counselor? Join the conversation by sharing your thoughts below.