Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning

Psychologist Dr. Francis Lee Stevens on ”Affective Neuroscience in Psychotherapy: Science-Based Interventions for Our Emotions”

October 26, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #174 with Dr. Francis Lee Stevens who works as a psychologist in Worcester, MA. He has taught a variety of classes in psychology and neuroscience and his research focuses on affective neuroscience applications to psychotherapy. Today we will dive deep into his new book, coming out on November 27th,  Affective Neuroscience in Psychotherapy: A Clinician’s Guide for Working with Emotions and will explore how Dr. Stevens has taken the latest developments in affective neuroscience and applies these science-based interventions with a sequential approach for helping patients with psychological disorders.

Learn more about Dr. Stevens https://www.drfrancisstevens.com/ 

Watch this interview on YouTube here https://youtu.be/2H-g1xg6FRY

In this episode you will learn:

✔︎ What Dr. Stevens saw was missing from previous forms of psychotherapy.

✔︎ Why changing our thinking doesn't change how we feel, and what he suggests instead.

✔︎ What Affect Reconsolidation is--that changes difficult emotions and feelings.

✔︎ How an understanding of the science of the brain works together with the practice needed for a new model of intervention.

✔︎ What we should all know about our emotions, how to dig deeper into our past to unlock memories, and deal with the feelings that keep us stuck.

I'm Andrea Samadi, author, and educator from Toronto, Canada, now in Arizona, and like many of our listeners, have been fascinated with learning and understanding the science behind high performance strategies that we can use to improve our own productivity in our schools, our sports, and workplace environments. My vision is to bring the experts to you, share their books, resources, and ideas to help you to implement their proven strategies, whether you are a teacher working in the classroom, a parent, or in the corporate environment. The purpose of this podcast is to take the fear out of this new discipline that backs our learning with simple neuroscience to make it applicable for us all to use right away, for immediate results.

What I think is fascinating as we are exploring this topic together, is that education is not the only field that can benefit from the understanding of simple neuroscience and “there are equivalent fields that seek to translate neuroscience findings to law (e.g. Royal Society, 2011a)[i] economics (e.g. Glimcher & Fehr, 2013)[ii] and social policy (e.g. Royal 2011b)[iii] bringing in research in behavior regulation, decision-making, reward, empathy and moral reasoning.” (Thomas, Ansari, Knowland, 2019).  When I received an email from Dr. Stevens about his new book that he wrote to help patients with psychological disorders with science-based interventions, I was very interested in learning more.

If American psychologist Dr. Daniel Amen, whose book The End of Mental Illness we reviewed on episode #128[iv] believes that “normal” is a myth and that 51%[v] of us will have a mental health issue in our lifetime (like post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, addiction, or an eating disorder—to name a few) then it’s clear that it’s more normal than not, to have a mental health problem and we must all pay attention to the first sign of any mental health issue, for ourselves, but especially our younger generations, since it’s critical for children’s success in school and life. Research shows that “students who receive social-emotional and mental health support achieve better academically”[vi] and “mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness but also encompasses wellness promotion; social, emotional, and behavioral health; and the ability to cope with life’s challenges. Left unmet, mental health problems are linked to costly negative outcomes such as academic and behavior problems, dropping out, and delinquency. Mental and behavioral health problems not only affect students’ short-term classroom engagement, but also interfere with long-term development of positive relationships and work-related skills.”[vii]

I’ve designed my questions for Dr. Stevens so that we can all think of how we could apply his research in our lives if we are working with students/children who might have experienced trauma to see how we can use our emotional awareness, emotional validation, self-compassion, and gain a deeper understanding of specific emotions, specifically anger, abandonment, and jealousy. Let’s meet Dr. Stevens and learn the emotional science behind the brain.

Welcome Dr. Stevens, thank you very much for meeting with me today to dive deeper into your new book coming out this fall, Affective Neuroscience in Psychotherapy: A Clinician’s Guide for Working with Emotions I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to speak with you.

INTRO Q: Before we get to the questions, I want to ask about your background and what led you to working in the field of psychotherapy, but I’ve got to mention something I heard while I was researching your work this weekend on the Science of Psychotherapy Podcast[viii] you did last month, and I had to stop the podcast and listen a few times to be sure I heard this right. What did you learn from your time working as an Improv Comedian that you have taken to your work as a psychologist?

 Q1: Dr. Stevens, getting to the questions that tie into your book, I saw that you mention “Research supports the idea that for many people, psychotherapy remains ineffective (Driessen, Hollon, Bockting, Cuijpers, & Turner, 2015; Dragioti, Karathanos, Gerdle, & Evangelou, 2017), with little explanation as to why” and I’ve always wondered about how “talking about problems solves them” without changing your thinking (because we can still have negative ruminating thoughts about something) unless we change the emotion attached to it, so I like the idea of CBT for helping people eliminate negative thought patterns. Can you explain where previous forms of psychotherapy have failed, what you found to be “missing” and how your book offers a new way forward through your research in affective neuroscience?

Q2:  My husband does some work with our local sheriff’s office here in AZ in his spare time, while I’m at my desk researching for interviews, and I’m always curious to hear what he sees in the field as it relates to mental health and what he shares when he gets back is always eye-opening especially if we have never dealt with someone who is struggling with mental health in a serious way. I just shake my head and really do wonder, for someone who works directly with people who struggle with mental health, what have you seen with the outcome of treatment for someone getting better vs staying on the same path that will just lead to problems later in their life?

Q3:  Looking at the Table of Contents, I see PART 1 containing the science with your argument for a new approach to therapy, and PART 2 as the practice where you walk us through how we must cope with and understand our emotions. Can you explain both parts of the book and how you’ve been intentional with how you introduce topics for the reader to learn and use.

Q4: I know how important emotions are for learning. One of our early episodes was with Marc Brackett, who wrote the book Permission to Feel[ix] which was important when many of us were raised to hide our emotions, then I wrote an episode on “How Our Emotions Impact Learning and the Brain”[x] and mention Jaak Panksepp and the fact that humans have seven networks of emotion in the brain. (Curiosity, Caring, Playfulness, Sadness, Fear, Anger, Lust). What should we all know about with our emotions, how our brain processes them, why we feel the way we do, so we can better manage/control those emotions that get us stuck in life?

Q5: When we are dealing with something that gives us an emotional charge (whatever it is for us) could be when someone cuts us off on the highway, or when someone says or does something that just pushes our buttons, and we feel that surge of “I’m so angry right now”  can you explain how we should look to understand the problem behind what we are feeling, and work on reconsolidating it (Joseph LeDoux’s work)?  (I’ve only see this with Neuro-Emotional Therapy where you look back at your childhood to see what happened back then that triggers the anger you might be feeling in the present, uncovering the root cause of the emotion and feelings, to clean it up (Dr. Carolyn Leaf).  

Q6: This next question covers Brain Network Theory that we cover on episode #48[xi] with the idea of learning how to be aware of the importance of switching between our networks to experience creativity instead of working hard and burning out. I mentioned listening to a recent podcast you did on The Science of Psychotherapy[xii] and you were talking about our thinking brain vs our feeling brain, do you remember that podcast?

I tried to bring some humor to this question with your improv background,  something (let’s say you are working on something, and someone famous shows up at your door and wants to take you out for coffee—I was trying to think of someone famous that could possibly sway me to step away from my desk, and came up with Phillip Seymour Hoffman—whose no longer with us, but you get the idea) you really want to go (your feeling brain—Emotional Network) but your thinking brain (Central Executive Network) tells you to stay back and keep working, creating cognitive dissonance. We’ve all felt this and many of us could easily make the right decision for us, but what happens when our feeling brain overtakes our thinking brain? How can we learn to integrate our entire brain so that we can make better decisions? What else can you tell us about the networks in our brain (if you look at the image created by Mark Waldman, who is teaching me how to understand the basics of neuroscience)?

 Brain_Network_Visual_2_a8uvy.jpg

IMAGE: created by Mark Waldman on Brain Network Theory.

Q7: We have also covered Joseph LeDoux’s concept of memory reconsolidation[xiii] on this podcast, that you address in your book as Affect Reconsolidation. Can you share what you have learned with your research and what strategies you offer with this idea to help people to overcome negative emotions associated with past trauma that could be impacting/damaging their life?

Q8: Is there anything important that we have missed about your book?

Dr. Stephens, I want to thank you so much for your time, research and strategies to help us to all better manage our emotions, with science-based strategies. If anyone wants to get a copy of your book, I have put your website link in the show notes, but when does it go live on Amazon?

Follow Dr. Stevens on Twitter https://twitter.com/DrLeeStevens  

Get a copy of Affective Neuroscience on Amazon 

Thank you!

BIO:

Dr. Stevens graduated with a Ph.D. in psychology from Tennessee State University and completed his internship in Clinical Psychology at the University of Rochester Counseling Center. Dr. Stevens research focuses on the anterior cingulate cortex, a unique region of the brain located between the prefrontal cortex and limbic system brain areas.

 

Dr. Stevens has taught at several colleges and universities in the Boston, MA area including Wheelock College, Boston College, and Harvard University. Dr. Stevens has a long scholarship record in clinical affective neuroscience, publishing widely in journals such as Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, and International Journal of Group Psychotherapy.

Additionally, Dr. Stevens has presented his work on emotion in therapy at multiple conferences. Dr. Stevens is on the executive committee of the Boston Neuropsychoanalysis Workshop, which develops models of empirically supported psychotherapy based on neuroscience. Dr. Stevens has a private practice and is a psychologist in Worcester, MA. His practice focuses on utilizing emotion for therapeutic change.

FOLLOW DR. STEVENS:

https://www.drfrancisstevens.com/

https://twitter.com/DrLeeStevens

FOLLOW ANDREA SAMADI: 

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/AndreaSamadi  

Website https://www.achieveit360.com/ 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/samadi/ 

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Achieveit360com  

Neuroscience Meets SEL Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/2975814899101697  

Twitter: https://twitter.com/andreasamadi  

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/andreasamadi/ 

 

RESOURCES:

What Oprah Learned from Jim Carrey Published Oct. 13, 2011  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPU5bjzLZX0

Leslie Greenberg’s Master Lecture on Emotion Focused Therapy by Lynn Mollick https://nj-act.org/greenberg.html

Inside Out, the Movie https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2096673/

Elizabeth Loftus “How our Memories Can Be Manipulated” https://www.npr.org/transcripts/557424726

 

REFERENCES:

 

[i] Royal Society (2011a). Brain Waves Module 4: Neuroscience and the law. London: Royal Society. [Google Scholar]

[ii] Glimcher, P.W. , & Fehr, E. (2013). Neuroeconomics: Decision making and the brain (2nd edn). London: Elsevier. [Google Scholar]

[iii] Royal Society (2011b). Brain Waves Module 1: Neuroscience, society and policy. London: Royal Society. [Google Scholar]

[iv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE # 128 with “ A Review of Dr. Daniel Amen’s End of Mental Illness Book” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/review-of-dr-daniel-amens-the-end-of-mental-illness-6-steps-for-improved-brain-and-mental-health/

[v] Dr. Amen, Brain Thrive by 25 Online Course http://brainthriveby25.com/

[vi] Comprehensive School-Based Mental and Behavioral Health Services and School Psychologists https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/mental-health/school-psychology-and-mental-health/comprehensive-school-based-mental-and-behavioral-health-services-and-school-psychologists#:~:text=Research%20demonstrates%20that%20students%20who,being%20all%20improve%20as%20well.

[vii] IBID

[viii] Dr. Stevens Talks Affective Neuroscience in Psychotherapy Sept. 6, 2021  https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com/francis-lee-stevens-talks-affective-neuroscience-in-psychotherapy/

[ix] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #22 Marc Brackett on his book “Permission to Feel” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/founding-director-of-the-yale-center-of-emotional-intelligence-on-his-new-book-permission-to-feel/

[x]Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE # 127 on “How Emotions Impact Learning, Memory and the Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-fact-friday-how-emotions-impact-learning-memory-and-the-brain/

[xi]Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #48 on “Brain Network Theory”  https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-network-theory-using-neuroscience-to-stay-productive-during-times-of-change-and-chaos/

[xii]Dr. Stevens Talks Affective Neuroscience in Psychotherapy Sept. 6, 2021  https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com/francis-lee-stevens-talks-affective-neuroscience-in-psychotherapy/

[xiii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE # 127 on “How Emotions Impact Learning, Memory and the Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-fact-friday-how-emotions-impact-learning-memory-and-the-brain/

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