Neuro-Psychology and Emotional Intelligence

Recently I have been listening to lectures from some of the neighbors to biblical counseling. These have involved two course length series in neuro-psychology and one in emotional intelligence theory (yes, I admit to being a nerd who thoroughly enjoys these things).

One of the benefits, that had little to do with counseling, was to learn from professors who mastered both their content and presentation. The quality of the lectures (structure, illustration, and presentation) were excellent. There was much to learn from their teaching style and quality.

But in this post I’d like to try to mesh a major teaching point from each field of study with biblical counseling.

First, from  both of the courses on neuro-psychology I learned (summarized):

Many of the same neurotransmitters are involved in multiple emotions. Dopamine, serotonin, and other brain chemicals are involved in emotions as different as depression, anxiety, and joy.

Second, from the course on emotional intelligence I learned (summarized):

The physiological symptoms on different emotions are often the same (accelerated heart rate, sweaty skin, dilated pupils, increased rate of thinking, etc…) and yet we experience different emotions (fear, anticipation, excitement) based upon our interpretation of the triggering event.

My apologies for reducing lengthy lectures into a couple of sentences, but I found both of these statements intriguing – especially when the two are considered together.

In light of this, I would conclude:

While brain chemistry and physiology definitely impact emotions, there is something the person (i.e., soul, mind, will, the “voice in our head,” etc…) is doing which determines the significance of either. If the same brain chemistry can produce different emotions and the same body changes can be interpreted as different emotions, then there is something the person adds to the experience of emotion than cannot be reduced to our physical body.

For those who think this is going to transition into a pro/con position on psychiatric medications, I don’t believe these points (or anything else I learned in these courses) determine whether medication is a wise choice for any given individual in his/her circumstances.

But the point that does seem clear is this – the voice in our head determines to some significant degree how we respond to the chemicals in our brain and the changes in our body. By the way, we should also acknowledge the chemicals in our brain and changes in our body affect the voice in our head.

So what do we do with this? With the acknowledgement that “three courses does not an expert make” and that my counseling bias is revealed, I will make three proposals of very day-to-day significance.

  1. We need to see the significance of our interpretations – whether we grumble or encourage is likely to greatly change our brain chemistry and physiology.
  2. We marvel at how robust a life experience God provides in our bodies – it appears we have a greater breadth of emotional-relational experience than we have physical determinants.
  3. We need to become excellent stewards of our bodies (sleep, diet, exercise, etc…; all of which significantly affect brain chemistry and physiology) in order to prevent our soul from being unnecessarily challenged.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Counseling Theory” post which address other facets of this subject.