Preventive Measures by Jennifer Lyons Roberts, LCSW

September, 2010

A recent NY Times article describes research underway on preventive care for married couples. Along the lines of an annual physical or dental exam, the ‘marriage checkup’ assesses the ‘health’ of the marriage and identifies areas that need addressing in order to prevent deterioration.

This strikes me as a superb idea and one that might be extended to single individuals too.
Since neuroscientific developments in the past 20 years have established that the mind, brain and body function like an orchestra and that unless all sections are ‘playing’ at their optimum level the whole organism will be ‘discordant’, it stands to reason that the more ‘practice’ each section has the more harmonious the outcome!

I’ve often likened the benefit of weekly group therapy to that of going to the gym three times a week. We pay monthly fees to keep up our gym membership for physical fitness, why not the same for our emotional/mental fitness?

The idea of strengthening and toning our emotional ‘muscles’, developing a strong ‘executive function’ in the prefrontal cortex that mediates self regulation and control over choice, that integrates emotion with self-expression, that balances intrapersonal with interpersonal relationships, all sounds like a very worthwhile endeavor.

As exciting new developments in brain research have also established the ‘neuroplasticity’ of the brain, neuroscientists have been able to confirm that psychotherapy does, in fact, rewire the brain. Over time, and through consistent, repeated interpersonal affectively colored experiences, new neural pathways are laid down and integrated into the neural networks of the brain.

In the face of such incontrovertible evidence does it not seem like the next, most advantageous form of preventive care should be in maintaining the emotional and mental health of the self , i.e. the brain/mind/body? To head problems off at the pass is surely better, and more cost effective, than waiting until there is a serious problem or a crisis, which could impact a person’s ability to work and/or maintain their relationships with others.?

Whether that preventive care takes the form of annual or semi-annual marriage checkups, annual, semi-annual, or monthly individual checkups, or weekly group therapy sessions, could be mutually determined by the individual and their psychotherapist.

As a seasoned psychotherapist in private practice for over 16 years I am integrating this preventive approach into my practice. As a member of the Psychotherapy and Training Collective of New York I would be able to refer individuals with specific issues, e.g. eating disorders, substance abuse issues, adoption issues, etc., to specialists in those areas.