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What Exactly is PsychoNeuroPlasticity (PNP)?

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by Laura Martinez, LCDC-I, Director of PsychoNeuroPlasticityIf you break that term up into its three parts: Psycho-Neuro-Plasticity. It states a psychological-brain-change. When we practice the principles of PsychoNeuroPlasticity, we change our brains psychologically and sometimes even physically. And guess what? We have 100 billion neurons with the ability to change.

“Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain.”
― Santiago Ramon y Cajal

Neuroplasticity refers to the brains ability to restructure and rewire itself. The unit that sits in between your two ears is flexible and can be altered in any way you would like it to. One thing to remember is “where attention goes, neurons grow.” An important question to ask yourself is “what do I want?” and “how would I like to change my brain?” These intentional questions shed light on where attentional learning needs to be placed. Damage to the brain caused by addiction, inflammation and toxicity can be resolved with various treatment methods that aid in neurogenesis. Research indicates that when the positive changes are reinforced, versus the dysfunctional pattern or neuropathway in the brain that the person is used to, a perspective shift happens within the individual. This perspective shift contributes to the “psychic change” that the Big Book speaks of.

You may be thinking: “I want a psychic change! How can I do that?”

PNP can be best explained in three different phases:

  1. Brain Healing – Ridding toxicity, restorative sleep patterns, hormone balancing, and nutrition.

During this phase it is important that the brain undergoes a restorative process. Addiction is a neuro-plastic event that results in depletion of vitamins and nutritional resources that aid in brain healing. During addiction, the brain is hijacked and the dopamine reward system is reinforced to use the drug or alcohol of choice. Also, when there is a lack of productive sleep the immune system can be in a state of dysfunction. Drug and alcohol addiction can lead to adrenal exhaustion and cortisol imbalances that need to be restored. During this phase, it is important that the patient learn how to breathe diaphragmatically for healing, learn how to sleep, start an exercise routine, drink a lot of water, eat nutritious food, and learn basic coping skills.

2. Building New or Strengthening Brain Patterns – Focus on internal strengths. Time to lay down new brain tracks.

The second phase is focused on how a person wants their brain to be. Addiction can lead the brain to unhealthy negative psychological perspectives that are toxic to the person’s transformational process.

At PNP, we speak about coming from our strengths, to work on our challenges. It is important during this process that the person discover what is right with them and how they can become an expanded version of themselves. Positive affirmations, internal journeys, neurostimulation, discovering their 20 power qualities, mindfulness training, and meditation will surely provide introspection and discovery.

The journey of getting sober is not just about staying away from alcohol or drugs, it is about honoring the authentic self and finding purpose in life. During this phase, it is important that repetition happen. New neuronal patterns are built on consecutive practice, discipline and accountability to the new pathways. Bonus points if these pathways are reinforced positively. Because if these pathways are reinforced, then self-confidence is gained within the person and strength is produced.

3. Transpersonal Awareness – 12-Step process – New road map of living, letting go of fear, and embracing spirituality and love.

This is my favorite phase. After all, why are we doing all of this work? Because when we let go of fear, something great happens. We begin to embrace spirituality and give our lives over to something much more powerful than ourselves.

This phase provides a road map for the person to continue living a life of purpose and runs parallel to the 12-Steps. During this phase, stress of the future and depression or regret of the past, begin to be released. Providing a safe space for the client to do internal exploration is critical during this phase. During this step, clients will take “dives” in the sensory deprivation chamber, visualize spiritual allies, practice mindfulness, take meditative journeys, and practice loving kindness and gratitude exercises.

All of these processes provide space for a client to have a spiritual awakening and move forward in their journey of recovery.

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