Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Neuroscience-Informed Cognitive-Behavior Therapy in Clinical Practice: A Preliminary Study

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Neuroscience-Informed Cognitive-Behavior Therapy in Clinical Practice: A Preliminary Study

Article excerpt

The field of neuroscience has influenced revisions to conventional models of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In the mental health counseling field, a conceptual model of neuroscience-informed cognitive-behavior therapy (n-CBT) was first published in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling in 2015. The present article reviews findings from the first six months of a year-long pilot study that examined counselor and client use and perceptions of n-CBT following application in clinical practice settings. Counselors reported successful alleviation of client symptomatology with n-CBT, particularly anxiety and depressive disorders. Counselors and clients also held similar and consistently high perceptions of n-CBT's credibility and the likelihood of improvement when using the model.


Counseling has been defined as "a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals" (Kaplan, Tarvydas, & Gladding, 2014, p. 368). In order to promote optimal mental health and wellness, the 2016 CACREP Standards (Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs [CACREP], 2015, Section 2.F) stipulate that an understanding of client biological, neurological, and physiological processes is "foundational knowledge required of all entry-level counselor education graduates" (p. 9). The American Mental Health Counselors Association's Standards for Practice (2015) also recommends that clinical mental health counselors receive advanced training in the biological bases of behavior.

Despite the need for an increased focus on biological, neurological, and physiological processes, many of the theoretical models of helping and best-practices taught in counselor education programs overlook current findings in neuroscience research. Furthermore, most were developed by other mental health professionals, not counselors (Kaplan & Gladding, 2011). As such, counselors need to conceptualize and test new models of counseling that incorporate neuroscience findings, promote a unified professional counselor identity, and strengthen the counseling profession.


Emerging findings from the field of neuroscience have the potential to influence and revise existing theoretical models of counseling and psychotherapy. Experts in the cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) field have reconsidered conventional CBT models to incorporate findings from neuroscience regarding how CBT changes functions of the brain (e.g., Clark & Beck, 2010). To address the need for more CBT models that incorporate neuroscientific knowledge, a new model of neuroscience-informed cognitive-behavior therapy (n-CBT) was described in the Summer 2015 edition of the Journal of Mental Health Counseling (Field, Beeson, & Jones, 2015). This model updated conventional forms of CBT with insights from neuroscience regarding physiological arousal and bottom-up processing (e.g., McRae, Misra, Prasa, Pereira, & Gross, 2012).

The new model of n-CBT (Field et al., 2015) modified Ellis' (1962) well-known ABC model to explain why client dysfunction occurs. Ellis' (1962) model theorizes that people experience emotional and behavioral consequences (C) based upon their core ideas and beliefs (B) that are stimulated by various activating events (A). As with all forms of conventional CBT, the client is taught to modify beliefs/cognitions (B) in response to an antecedent (A), leading to different emotional and behavioral consequences (C). During crisis moments, clients are taught to think before responding. Research studies (e.g., Riao, Orederu, Palazzolo, Shurick, & Phelps, 2013) have demonstrated that cognitive emotional regulation strategies are often ineffective under high stress conditions. The n-CBT model was developed from the need for a counseling approach that understands the limited capacity for a person to engage in conscious, rational processing when powerful hormones such as adrenaline (i. …

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