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Neuroscience and Social Work

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In order to better understand our clients and their experiences, we must first understand the way that our brains work. All of what occurs in the social and emotional aspects of our lives can be explained by using theories of neuroscience. Neuroscience focuses on specific brain structures and how they affect individuals. For years there was little connection between neuroscience and social work, but the importance of linking the two fields has become more popular in recent years. As science has progressed and more information has been discovered about how our brains work, it is necessary for social workers to have a good understanding of neuroscience. Some of the most crucial topics for social workers to understand are the structure of the brain, brain development, neuroplasticity, attachment theory, affect regulation, and trauma. By understanding these concepts, we can provide more effective interventions for the unique clients that we serve.
The human brain weighs approximately three pounds and contains approximately 100 billion neurons (Farmer, 2009, p. 21). The brainstem is the oldest part of the brain and it controls important functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and our fundamental emotions such as happiness or sadness. It also sends and receives information from the spinal cord. Above the brainstem is the thalamus, which connects to the higher cortical regions of the brain. It manages sensations such as touch. The hippocampus surrounds the thalamus and it manages spatial working memory, learning, and emotion. The cerebellum is located at the back of the brain is responsible for movement and cognitive and emotional functions. The outer region of the brain is the cerebral cortex and is divided i...

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...ll as other mental illnesses, which can lead to a myriad of problems in an individual’s life.
Though there is an infinite amount of information that would be beneficial for social workers to know about the human brain, knowing these basics will make an enormous difference in the way that we serve our clients. Understanding the structure of the brain, brain development, neuroplasticity, attachment theory, affect regulation, and trauma is incredibly helpful for any person in a helping profession, and especially for social workers. As we work with our clients, we must remember that their emotions and reactions are almost always in some way related to what they experienced in early childhood and the effect that their childhood experiences had on their brains. Knowing this allows us to be more empathetic and effective when working with the clients that we serve.
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