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Sara Denning, PhD, Clinical Psychologist

The 'New' Psychology - Getting the Most out of therapy.

The newest medical research reports announce that your brain continues to be plastic
(flexible) throughout life. As we already know the process of cognitive behavioral psychotherapy can modify your decision making process and sense of self. As your brain continues to produce new connections (axons and dendrites) therapy helps by learning through a relationship with the therapist. Therapy needs to be " Up to Date" in its approach to change. The 'New' Therapy includes exercise, educational and social directives as well as discussion of cognition.

As you work on understanding the cues of your current behavior based on past experiences – you need to get both physical and curious in the present. Long term studies in China and Sweden show that continued social interactions enhance brain functioning. These need to be of a meaningful and helpful nature such as taking or teaching classes and volunteering or group activities.

Exercise improves Executive Functioning of the prefrontal lobe - This is a set of abilities that allows you to select appropriate behavior and focus on the job at hand instead of distractions. Exercise helps enhance oxygen flow to the brain reducing risks of mini strokes and stimulating growth factors that promote formation of new neural connections. Sandra Aamodt, editor of Nature Neuroscience and Dr. Sam Wang neuroscientist at Princeton Univ.

Education – the more you learn the longer your brain works well. The same old habits do not stimulate new connective growth. Interests or careers that promote 'Lifelong' learning such as science or playing musical instruments, learning a language…. Cultivating new activities as well as a variety of interests helps produce new connections. These new activities can make up what is known as a cognitive reserve which is used as a warehouse. When other areas decline in usage these newer connections take up the slack. Dr Nikolaos Scarmeas and Dr. Yaakov Stern, Columbia Pres. Hosp. NYC

What does this mean for your therapy?

You should have an agenda that develops as you go through the process. Unlearning your current thought process and behavioral cues takes time but the outcome should be an integrated lifestyle that promotes physical, social and intellectual healthy habits.

A checklist of each area is a helpful component to begin this integrative process. Make a list to describe each area and your goals for Social, education and exercise. Be sure your therapy addresses these.

Your therapist should be studying neurology to get the newest information to apply to the process in order to help you develop the full range of personal health available.

About the author:

Dr. Denning is in private practice in New York City. Go to or

Stressedout for more on cognitive behavioral therapy.

Sara Denning, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, New York

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New York, NY 10003

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Last Modified: 3/23/2018  

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