Counselling: a brain and life changing experience

Counselling: a brain and life changing experience


“Listening creates a holy space. When you listen generously to people, they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time. And when you listen deeply, you can know yourself in everyone”.

(Rachel Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom)


A close friend recently pondered as to whether counselling was quote, ‘just a whole lot of talking’. I took the opportunity to share some recent discoveries in neuroscientific research and their exciting implications for ‘talking therapies.


Neuroscientific research is suggesting that in counselling spheres a number of elements contribute to helping clients achieve their goals. The brain is being seen now as a social entity and it responds well when connected to an optimum environment. A talking therapy session is considered just such an enriched environment. The therapeutic contact and the conversation are a gateway experience to change. The very presence and person of the counsellor facilitates change and the essential factor regarding neural change is the quality of the therapeutic relationship with one’s therapist.


Neural machinery, namely brain cells, link through ‘firing’, thereby creating pathways. Hence the mantra, ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’. According to Kandel, there is no longer any doubt that talking therapy can result in detectable changes in the brain. Brain scans done before and after therapy show that the brain plasticity reorganizes itself in treatment.


This has great promise for people experiencing depression and/or anxiety for example in that they can be helped to “establish new firing patterns and new neural activity”.

When those patterns are established and regularly activated, old firing patterns become redundant, which means less risk of relapse into old patterns. So, chronic behavior patterns are amenable to change, meaning we need not be defined by, nor chained to, our personal history.


Therapy Time Frames

Research suggests that “when new patterns are activated for a period of six to eight weeks, a new neural pattern is established. Maintaining the strength of new neural patterns requires personal support and homework over time.

Sustaining change requires follow up therapy sessions. I advise my clients to maintain contact on a monthly basis after their initial block of six to eight weekly counselling sessions, wherein the more dramatic shifts tend to have occurred.

So, counselling is in fact a potent means of embracing change, renewal and a fresh perspective on life. It can free us up from old ways, and alter habitual states such as those experienced inside anxiety and depression.


The key is to find the therapist with whom you resonate and who provides comfort, safety and wise counsel.



2011  The Brain that Changes Itself Norman Doidge MD.

Bao S, Chang E F, Davis , Woods J, and Merzenich M (2004). ‘Temporal Plasticity in the primary cortex produced by operant perceptual learning’. Nature Neuroscience, Vol 9, pp.974-981.

Kandel, E.R.: A New Intellectual Framework for Psychiatry. Published online: April 01, 1998

Rossouw, P J. (2011d), ‘The World as one. The Neuroscience of Interconnectedness’. Neuropsychotherapy, Vol. 7, pp. 2-7.

Rossouw, P J. (2013). ‘The neuroscience of talking therapies: Implications for therapeutic practice’. Neuropsychotherapy in Australia, Issue 24