21 March 2010

Some thoughts from Eric Kandel

Eric R. Kandel won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000, and in 2006 published a memoir entitled In Search of Memory, subtitled The Emergence of a New Science of Mind.  While much of his career was in neuroscience and in particular the basis of memory, he did have a background in psychoanalysis, so he brings an interesting viewpoint on the mind-brain link.  He does believe that mind-directed activity such as psychotherapy can change the brain.

"In fact, if psychotherapeutic changes are maintained over time, it is reasonable to conclude that different forms of psychotherapy lead to different structural changes in the brain, just as other forms of learning do." (p. 370).

Kandel would like to evaluate psychotherapeutic techniques through brain imaging of the resultant changes, to give it a more empirical basis.  He also pulls in this quote from Kay Jamison's An Unquiet Mind:

"But, ineffably, psychotherapy heals. It makes some sense of the confusion, reins in terrifying thoughts and feelings, returns some control and hope and possibility of learning from it all. Pills cannot, do not, ease one back into reality." (p. 372 of In Search of Memory).

I think the point of control is an interesting one.  If one relies only on the neuroscience approach to the brain, this effectively cedes control of brain changes to the expert, whether through use of drugs or more invasive techniques.  With a mind-directed approach, there is the potential for self-control and direction.

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