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September 15, 2015 Diane Ryan

Changing the Brain

Neuroplasticity and Eating Disorder Recovery

neuroplasticity The annual Wilderness Therapy Symposium is a great opportunity to meet and share best practices with clinicians, instructors, researchers and guides from wilderness programs all over the world. For me, one of the highlights of this year's symposium was a pre-conference workshop on current research on outdoor behavioral healthcare. Findings related to the impact of treatment interventions underscored the significance of non-structured time spent with clients. This was followed by a workshop addressing the latest findings in the field of neuroplasticity and the implications for behavioral health.

Until recently, it was thought that the brain stopped developing after the first few years of life, and that if part of the adult brain was damaged, the nerve cells could not regenerate or form new connections. However, ongoing studies are demonstrating that the brain continues to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life in response to changes in our feelings, thoughts, experiences and the way we use our bodies. As we engage in habitual behaviors, such as eating disorders or substance abuse, neural pathways become entrenched, increasing the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated. But the plasticity of the brain means we can retrain the brain to develop new neural pathways that support recovery.

Research on the mechanism of neurological change indicates that several driving forces need to be present for neurogenesis to occur:

Neuroplasticity is revolutionizing the field of behavioral health and underscoring the critical role of experiential therapies. Mirasol is proud to offer eating disorder treatment programs that maximize the conditions for new neural patterning, including EMDR, yoga, TRE, art therapy, polarity therapy, somatic therapy and circus arts. Our adventure therapy and wilderness programming add an element of novelty, encouraging clients to expand and discover innovative solutions to challenges and uncover hidden strengths. As clients participate in service projects that expose them to new groups of people and circumstances, they become more skillful at reframing their perceptions of themselves, creating their own pathways to lasting recovery.

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