How Does Psychotherapy Help the Brain?

By Michael Jones

Psychological approaches to mental health—like psychotherapy—and biological approaches to mental health—like the medications prescribed by physicians—address many of the same human problems from different directions.  It is a mistake to think of ourselves as merely biological or merely psychological.  Rather, we are both, and our lives express a unity of the biological and the psychological (and even the spiritual) that we do not fully understand even as we experience it everyday.

For example, we aren’t surprised when improvements to the body have positive effects on our sense of psychological well-being.  Exercise and good nutrition improve mood and mental acuity.  Similarly, we know that mindfulness and intellectual activity can contribute to our overall physical health.  That is, the psyche can have positive affects on the body.  Exactly how these things work is what contemporary neuroscience explores as it seeks to understand how the physical brain embodies the psychological mind.

Psychotherapy addresses the psychological part of the human being first, but it works on the whole human being—that is, what heals the mind may also heal the brain.

A recent exchange of letters in The New York Times entitled: “Sunday Dialogue: Treating Mental Illness” gives some great perspectives on the practical and the theoretical implications of these issues.

By Michael Jones, Ph.D., LSW

Published on November 5, 2017