VIDEO: Dr. John C. Norcross on Neuroscience and Psychotherapy

Dr. John Norcross discusses new findings in neuroscience and their impact on psychotherapy.

The following transcript contains part of an exclusive interview with Dr. Lisa Firestone and Dr. John C. Norcross.

LF:      And what do you think about all the new findings in neuroscience?  Are they really informing psychotherapy or are they not so important?

JN:      Well, I’m excited by it.  But my answer is, really; not much — and profoundly influencing it.  The ‘not much’ comes from those of us who already believed there was a brain.  I suppose if you started out with the Cartesian dualism – there’s a mind and then there’s a brain or body – this must seem fascinating, that the mind and body are interacting.  But my training in philosophy and psychology was in the monistic tradition of health psychology, behavioral medicine — were all one thing.  I was pretty confident there was a brain in there, from the beginning.

In that respect, most of this seems more confirmatory than revelatory to me, so far.  So when I read some of these wonderful neuroscience studies, I keep asking, “So, what specifically would I do differently in my psychotherapy?”  I’m not coming up with much yet.  That leads to my second response, “But it will soon.”  For example, to be told that if we give serotonin-based medication, we’ll have about the same results as doing exposure work for OCD.  And guess what, Lisa?  They both show up in the brain.  I don’t find that surprising.  I think it’s wonderful; it’s confirmatory, but not revelatory.  But as we progress with our assessment of brain functioning, then I think we’re going to come up with far more tailored, personalized treatments.  So right now, it’s gratifying, it’s confirmatory.  I’m waiting when we make that transcendent leap, to say, “Here’s a brand new therapy or set of skills that we didn’t have before.”

LF:      And that hasn’t happened, at least yet.

JN:      Not for me.  But I understand people who didn’t think much about the brain, the way they think about it, and even talk about it, differs.  You hear people talking about brain therapy these days.  That doesn’t surprise me, but I know it surprises other people.  I think in ten years, with advances in neuroscience, we’re all going to say, “Here’s some additional things, or different things we should be doing in our clinical work.”

About the Author

John C. Norcross, PH.D. John C. Norcross, PhD, ABPP, is a clinical psychologist, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Scranton, and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University.  He specializes in the areas of  psychotherapy, clinical training, and self-change. Dr. Norcross is the acclaimed author of the self-help book Changeology, as well as hundreds of professional journal publications and books. He is past-president of the American Psychological Association's Division of Psychotherapy and the Division of Clinical Psychology. He has served as an APA council representative and as a director of the National Register of Health Service Psychologists. Learn more about Dr. John C. Norcross' work at the Changeology website.

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