I have mixed feelings about neuroscience. For decades therapists, coaches, educators, ministry leaders and others (like me) have assumed that change in any field comes from empathic listening, vision casting, goal setting, effective communication, the eradication of painful memories, and maybe thousands of other methods for behavior change. We’ve known that all of this depends on the workings of our brains and neurological systems but we’ve rarely given much serious attention to those biological/neurological issues.
Until now! Emerging developments in neurophysiology have captivated our attention, suggests an article in Psychotherapy Networker (July/August, 2013). “Therapists have become enamored with brain science,” This fascination extends to other areas as well, including ways in which neurological functioning impacts leadership, coaching, music, creativity, education, and even spirituality. The Networker analyzes this “brain craze” and acknowledges the recent strides in neuroscience. But understanding how the brain works does not always translate into the practical side of bringing change.
One Networker article argues that “current neuroscience has yet to translate its findings into effective or practical recipes for therapists.” Findings from the brain-imagery lab haven’t demonstrated any “persuasive direct application of neuroscience to the practice of therapy” or to other means for bringing change.
This may be a debatable conclusion. Other Networker articles describe a few practical change strategies that have emerged from neuroscientific discoveries. But scientific discoveries rarely have practical applications at least in the beginning. At some time in the future neuroscience may help us understand how and why some of our change strategies work. We’ll know why some are ineffective. We will discover new practical strategies for making us more effective therapists, coaches, leaders, spiritual directors and other change agents.
Meanwhile, how do change-makers respond to neuroscience when we lack expertise in this field? As much as possible we keep abreast of what neuroscience is discovering. We encourage younger colleagues to enter one of the neuroscience/neuropsychology fields. We keep refining our skills and knowledge about methods that are proven to work. We stay cautious about using methods that have limited or no evidence-based support. We use the same caution when looking at another fad: the often-unsupported idea that if some method lacks so-called empirical evidence it is of no validity.
These are heavy issues. Please comment.