Dr. Drew Pinsky is joined this week by UCLA based teen psychologist Dr. Dan Siegel for a deep conversation about teen development and how traumatic experiences can dramatically change the course of development.
They talk about the difference between an affect (clinical term for feeling an emotion) and a sensation (which is the body directly feeling something, like pain) when discussing how drug abusers are not to blame for any hit except the first one.
Dr. Siegel transitions to an incredible idea, which is that “Relationships are where the mind and self are created” – breaking down the social creature of man into its purest ideation. Dr. Siegel’s research shows that a teen’s relationships literally form the regulatory circuits of the brain. Trauma, such as abuse or betrayal of trust, can harm the brain, and therapy can help heal and even be a preventative measure to ‘reconnect’ the circuits. Dr. Siegel believes the brain is an important component to mental health, but mental illness is not always explained by biological damage.
As an aside, many younger people have always objected to Dr. Drew’s endorsement of AA and 12-step programs in general, due to the “Relent to a Higher Power” step, which they find antithetical to their non-religious beliefs; in this episode he addresses that that step is actually about accepting that you need to have faith in others and the ability to trust to move past being a guarded manipulator as a defense mechanism.
Dr.’s Drew and Siegel go on a tangent, talking about consciousness and its absence in people like feral children who have no relationships, and Siegel mentions that Helen Keller wrote in her autobiography that her consciousness did not truly start until Anne Sullivan was able to teach her the word for water; to quote “My mind was opened that day”
Dr. Siegel agrees with Dr. Drew that therapists and psychiatrists need to get together and push ‘interpersonal neurobiology,’ as an organization that works to help people who are not deeply mentally ill but need to and could improve from mindfulness and connecting via consilience.
All the research on well-being that Dr. Siegel has done points him to two keys to living well –
• Savor life, enjoy everything life has to offer; and
• Serve something. Dedicate your life to a cause bigger than yourself and your family.
Living for “we” instead of “me” is the core of consilience.
Dr. Siegel is a strong advocate of working with schools to help them deal with teens since their brains are forming in a way that – as an evolutionary advantage – are determined to push away from the adults in their life, determined to do things in a different way. Celebrating the wacky antics of the young is important rather than shutting down expression and exploration, and more study is needed on the pre-frontal cortex and hyperrational thinking, which allows the adolescent to actually enjoy the thrill more than they suffer stress from risk. Recentering adolescents to balance this risk-stress and thrill-pleasure is far more effective that simply shouting down kids and telling them to fall in line. Siegel’s research is intensely interesting, and hearing him and Dr. Drew geek out over brain research is immensely re-listenable.