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Neuroscience: 5 Keys to Engagement & Recovery

Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients. Imagine that as I stand at my computer suddenly tranquil music starts playing and later a buzzer sounds to […]

Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.

Imagine that as I stand at my computer suddenly tranquil music starts playing and later a buzzer sounds to keep me moving – standing up or sitting down. This continues, driving me to stay focused, on schedule, and finish my tasks for the day. The future is here.

Neuromarketers are smart. They study the brain’s responses to both marketing and advertising and as reported in the London Times (June, 2018), have for some time been using facial coding software via webcams to read consumers’ expressions to learn their emotional reactions to the products and services we buy.

So it isn’t surprising to think that neuromarketing can be used in many arenas, which may include the workplace and extend into folks in recovery where neuromarketing can help support significant areas of engagement. As an interventionist and clinician who works with complicated mental health, substance abuse, process disorders and chronic pain clients, I’m very interested to see how neuromarketing will work its way into my arena of behavioral health.

Though still in its infancy, it’s important to note that neuromarketing forms only one branch of neuroscience. Going back to its origins, embryonic neuroscience has been around since the 1950’s and focuses on the study of the nervous system which includes the brain and its impact on human behavior and cognitive functions. This forms the bedrock of neuroscience studies. As researchers and scientists dug deeper, a huge breakthrough came in understanding how this explains addiction in the human brain.

For example, we know that when someone is addicted their brain is hijacked, so to speak, and that it alters their behavioral patterns and the ways in which they relate to people, places and things. The same is true with folks who experience Chronic Pain Syndrome (pain that lasts more than 90 days coupled with drug dependence), according to Pain Is Strange by Steve Haines.

As we continue to learn more about the brain, we begin to see a picture of the future emerge as it relates to neuroscience. Andre Vermeulen, an international expert in the neuroscience of learning and consultant to leadership and talent at Full Potential Group, believes that neuroscience will become increasingly important as the so-called “fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence (AI) takes hold.”

As such, he sees the impact this will have on industry and the workplace. With respect to employees, job roles will shift and disappear and employees will need to demonstrate more “neuro-agility,” or the mental ability to adapt quickly to change. So too in the recovery world must loved ones and family members adapt and adjust to new ways of being.

An extension of neuroscience is artificial intelligence, a breakthrough that has the potential to help us in a variety of ways to increase well being. AI, for example, is efficient at pattern recognition, which translates to recognizing individuals  repeating an action over and over again. One can see how AI then may be able to help with addiction and substance abuse. Still, AI is no good at complex problem solving and that is where neuroscience comes in to help optimize our learning and creative recovery practices.

Neuroscience, however, helps individuals understand who they are and what they are designed for. When there is alignment between who someone is and what they bring with them (i.e. to treatment, to work, to life and to recovery), they understand their value and emerge in a position to express who they are and make a difference. This means they are “naturally engaged.”

David Rock, Director of Neuroleadership Institute SCARF MODEL, describes 5 domains as being important for engagement. We can see how these domains are equally important for addiction treatment and recovery. This research shows that high levels of engagement occur when people experience rewards from all 5 of these domains and that folks become disengaged when they experience high levels of threat. Here are the domains:

  1. Status. Our relative importance to others and being seen and valued by our peers enhances self esteem.
  2. Certainty. Our ability to predict what lies ahead. In recovery, one learns that if they continue to do the work (i.e. go to meetings, work with a counselor, engage in helpful relationships, be of service) life, though not without hiccups, will be better and they will be present.
  3. Autonomy. Being in control over events and knowing that one has choices, flexibility in how they organize their lives and a sense of power helps maintain a feeling of optimism.
  4. Relatedness. A sense of connectedness and safety with others. Knowing that others respect you and will treat you fairly helps make one feel safe and secure. Self support groups of which there are hundreds in the world are based on this assumption.
  5. Fairness. A perception of fair exchange amongst people, not underhandedness. One may challenge their behavior as is often done in recovery, however, it is done with fairness and respect.

Taking a look at these 5 domains can be very helpful for those in the behavioral health field as they continue to meet the needs and the challenges of folks and their loved ones who experience the threats of disengagement which come from substance misuse and abuse. To further our conversation on this matter, please reach out to us at [email protected] with your thoughts and experience.


To learn more about Louise Stanger and her interventions and other resources, visit her website.

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