Full Course Description

Applied Neuroscience for Brain Change in the Treatment of Trauma, Anxiety and Stress Disorders

Program Information


  1. Determine the neurophysiology of the stress response, including the roles of the amygdala, hypothalamus, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and the effects of cortisol and adrenaline.
  2. Discriminate among acute stress, major life events and chronic stressors, and the longer-term effects of chronic stress on mind and body.
  3. Implement grounding strategies to help clients who experience “freeze” states or dissociative symptoms.
  4. Communicate the concept of mindfulness, how it affects the brain, and how to use mindfulness-based interventions in therapy.
  5. Critique the concept of self-compassion and research on its benefits.
  6. Design practical exercises to increase self-compassion in clients facing stress.
  7. Analyze the importance of perceived control to the impact of stressors and learn how to help clients differentiate controllable and uncontrollable aspects of stressors.
  8. Explore how stress and anxiety narrow cognitive focus and create thinking traps and learn techniques to help clients be more cognitively flexible in the face of stress.
  9. Evaluate the research suggesting that positive emotions can undo the physiological effects of negative emotions.
  10. Investigate how rumination exacerbates the effects of stress and how to help clients curtail ruminative cycles and de-fuse from negative thinking.
  11. Appraise how a growth mindset differs from a fixed mindset and how to help clients adopt a growth mindset and a gritty attitude towards their stressors.
  12. Assess the application of a brain-based, neuroscience approach to treating clinical disorders like GAD and PTSD.


Using Neuroscience in Treatment of Stress and Trauma

  • Positives:
    • Science gives authority, evidence, de-stigmatizes mental health problems
    • Increased motivation and hope for change
  • Concerns:
    • Oversimplification, unrealistic expectations, changing state of science, see self as damaged or different

The Promise of Neuroplasticity

  • Describe neuroplasticity in everyday language
  • Therapy is about creating a new, more resilient brain
  • We are changing beings - don’t have to be stuck in rigid views of self
  • Teach brain to be less reactive to stress and triggers
  • “Rewiring” as a metaphor for change
  • Changing “raw,” unprocessed memories to organized narratives

The Brain’s Stress Response

  • Historical view - Hans Selye
  • The brain’s stress response “fight, flight, freeze”
  • The triune brain - reptilian, mammalian, human
  • The amygdala and the prefrontal cortex
  • How the amygdala “hijacks” the brain into emergency mode

How the Stress Response is Spread Throughout the Body

  • Neurotransmitters - Epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol
  • The HPA axis and role of cortisol
  • The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
  • The dorsovagal “freeze” response to unavoidable threat

The Upside and Downside of Stress

  • Increased motivation and engagement - “flow”state
  • Can create mental toughness and resilience to future stressors
  • Inflammatory response to chronic stress
  • Stress and health risk behaviors (excess alcohol use, smoking, overeating etc)
  • Stress and cellular aging (telomeres)

Traumas - Effects on the Brain

  • Cortisol attacks the hippocampus - center of narrative memory
  • Amygdala response increases in strength
  • Impaired anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and prefrontal cortical function
  • Cortisol halts production of BDNF - fewer new brain cells formed
  • Link to depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD
  • Cognitive rigidity and inability to take in new information
  • Changes in sense of self and dissociation

Long-Term Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

  • The ACE Study (Kaiser and the CDC)
  • Addictive and unhealthy ways of managing anxiety & negative emotions
  • Disease, mental health issues, behavioral problems, PTSD

Explaining Neuroscience Concepts to Clients

  • Use drawings and images
  • Individualize to the type of difficulty (e.g., disengaged vs reactive - different brain areas)
  • Redirect vs eliminate
  • Help client label & recognize when happening (e.g., freeze, flooding, negative thinking, rigidity, impulsivity)
  • Find coping strategies for each type of brain difficulty

Stress-Proofing the Brain - Overview

  • Calming the amygdala - Grounding, mindfulness, self-compassion, perceiving control
  • Moving forward with the prefrontal cortex - Cognitive reappraisal, priming positive mindsets and, growth focus, health psychology tools

Grounding Strategies for Clients with Trauma or Attachment Injuries

  • Yoga, relaxation, breathing, present-moment focus, soothing with the senses, pets, drawing, gardening, walking
  • Mental imagery - safe place, boundaries, energetic, times they felt strong/competent
  • Left-brain strategies - task focus and engagement

Mindfulness Strategies

  • Qualities of mindfulness states - open, nonjudgmental, fluid, deliberate,
  • Observing and accepting inner experience (thoughts, feelings, sensations)
  • Using the senses to self-regulate
  • De-fusing from negative thoughts and self-images
  • How mindfulness changes the brain
  • Mindfulness practices - breathing, watching thoughts, urge surfing, open awareness
  • Application to anxiety, depression, addictions, PTSD

Self-Compassion Strategies

  • Self-kindness, common humanity, focus on unmet needs
  • Application to depression, anxiety, stress-management, trauma, insecure attachment
  • Link to Schema Therapy - healthy adult mode
  • Practices - Metta meditation, soften, soothe and allow, dialogues with inner critic

Cognitive Strategies

  • How stress and anxiety narrow attention, create cognitive rigidity
  • Depression and negative thinking
  • PTSD and internalized negative appraisals (helpless, unworthy, unsafe etc.)
  • Worry and rumination cycles - link to prefrontal cortex and default mode network
  • Why thought suppression doesn’t work
  • De-catastrophizing and probability estimation
  • Exposure and tolerating negative thoughts
  • Using metaphors (monsters on the boat, bouncy ball underwater)

Creating Positive States of Mind to Counter Stress

  • How our brains are wired to the negative
  • Positive emotions can promote physiological recovery from anxiety and fear
  • Reappraising anxiety as excitement
  • Gratitude diaries
  • Commitment, control, and challenge; growth mindset

Living Healthy in the Face of Stress

  • Sleep disturbance - behavioral strategies
  • Healthy coping strategies - exercise, meditation, yoga
  • Dealing with emotional eating

Target Audience

Addiction Counselors, Case Managers, Chaplains/Clergy, Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Nurses, Psychologists, Social Workers, and other Mental Health Professionals

Copyright : 07/12/2018