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Introduction to the brain. Part 1: the limbic system

Advances in neuroscience over the past 100 years have revolutionized the practice of psychology. Without an understanding of the the brain as an organ, psychology was stuck in its “Pre-Copernican” phase. Imagine trying to design the perfect diet without knowing what the stomach and liver are supposed to do! With each new discovery about how the brain works, psychologists can improve the way they help their patients. There is still much left to learn though. Often, the more we learn about how the brain works the more we realize we don’t know.

We don’t all need to become neuroscientists, but there’s nothing wrong with finding out a little more about what’s inside your head. This is the first of a short five-part series introducing some key concepts.

The limbic system

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The limbic system is located right in the center of the brain and plays an absolutely central role in making you who you are. Interestingly, it is in charge of both emotions and ‘higher’ functions such as forming memories and learning. That’s a big part of the reason why negative emotions can have such a damaging effect on your ability to function. Because of its role in creating and regulating emotions, some people have dubbed the limbic system the “emotional nervous system”. Strangely enough, the limbic system also plays a huge role in processing the senses of smell and taste. Many people have noticed that certain aromas can conjure up strong emotions or vividly bring back forgotten memories. Perhaps the most famous example is the madeleine cake dipped in tea in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. The limbic system explains why.

Emotions are powerful

A popular misconception is that different parts of our personality are stored in different “departments” in the brain. One bit for love, one bit for academic study, one bit for tastes and flavors etc. That’s not the case. In fact, the rational and emotional parts of our mind are connected at the biological level.  The successful therapist is aware of how different parts of the human personality are linked.

Click to read part 2 part 3, and part 4

JD Murphy is a Christian therapist, specializing in couples therapy and addiction treatment. For therapy in Pineville, LA, call today or fill in the contact form and click send.