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Society – Strengthening brain connections and tackling loneliness

March 2017

A new study has shown for the first time that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) strengthens specific connections in the brain and leads to long term reduction in mental symptoms and in recovery.

The study, by King’s College London and the Maudsley NHS Trust (http://www.kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/news/records/2017/January/Study-reveals-for-first-time-that-talking-therapy-changes-the-brain’s-wiring.aspx) looked at people with specific mental health issues, but it’s long been known that CBT has positive effects in a whole range of applications and that the effects are long lasting and life changing.

Strengthening brain connections is one of the aims of the ‘Brain & Soul Boosting for Seniors’ (BSBS) programme, produced by the Pilgrims’ Friend Society (PFS). BSBS is based on CBT principles, including guided discovery and the meanings individuals give to events in their lives.

The core CBT theory chimes with biblical precepts — ‘As a man thinks in his heart so he is’ (Proverbs 23:7) — and the BSBS sessions strengthen Christian beliefs. BSBS also builds on the Christian understanding that God designed human beings to work in relationship with one another, to build one another up.

Janet Jacob, a psychogeriatric nurse, who ran sessions for nearly three years with different groups of older people says she saw some heart-warming results: ‘You could see their sense of self-worth and their confidence growing, as well as better mental processing’, she said. ‘One lady said that for the first time she felt free to talk about things she normally isn’t able to’.

Loneliness

The BSBS programme also helps tackle loneliness. You may have heard the interview with 95-year-old Bob Low on BBC’s Today programme. Bob said he’s been lonely since his wife died six years ago. He’d spent last Christmas with his daughter, but he and his wife would always see the New Year in together and at the stroke of midnight wish each other ‘Happy New Year!’ You could hear the grieving in his voice. He said that he has ‘some lovely people who help me … but the loneliness!’

Losing a life partner is like having an amputation and is traumatic at any age. But when you’re older, it can take longer to come to terms with. Talking helps, but often older people have noone to talk to; or, when there is, there doesn’t seem to be a right time to open up.

The PFS want to help alleviate loneliness and BSBS offers a safe, proven framework for it. It’s already being used in churches, in hospitals, and family homes with good results.

In the workbook are evaluation guidelines and forms. Leaders don’t need special skills, though two experienced leaders in Northamptonshire (who are now developing their own session themes) are happy to help if needed.

Older people like the sessions, as it strengthens their mental processes and spiritual wellbeing. It also gives them meaningful interactions with others that staves off loneliness. You can get a copy of the BSBS workbook from the PFS website: http://www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/christians-for-old-people/resources

Louise Morse

Pilgrims’ Friend Society

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