Dennis S. Charney, MD, is the Dean of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and a world expert in the neurobiology and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders. He has made fundamental contributions to the understanding of neural circuits and neurochemistry related to human anxiety, fear, mood and discovery of new treatment for mood and anxiety disorders. He later expanded this area into pioneering research related to the psychobiological mechanisms of human resilience to stress. He's a professor of neuroscience at Mt. Sinai.
A prolific author, Dr. Charney has written more than 700 publications, including groundbreaking scientific papers, chapters, and books. He has authored a many books, including Neurobiology of Mental Illness (Oxford University Press, USA, Third Edition, 2009); The Peace of Mind Prescription: An Authoritative Guide to Finding the Most Effective Treatment for Anxiety and Depression (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004); The Physicians Guide to Depression and Bipolar Disorders (McGraw-Hill Professional, 2006), and Resilience and Mental Health: Challenges Across the Lifespan (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Dr. Charney’s most recent book is Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges (Cambridge University Press).
Dennis Charney: One of the things that we have found in our research is that in general we don't make full use of the capacity of the human brain. We identified that actually initially from hearing from a couple of the POWs when they were in solitary confinement. They told us that when they were in solitary confinement for years and all they had was the ability to think that they developed unusual cognitive capacities that they never had before when they were in solitary confinement, like they were essentially exercising their brain.
One individual told us he was able to multiply eventually many numbers by many numbers, 12 numbers by 12 numbers accurately. Never was able to do that before. Another told us that he was able to remember to very early times in his childhood, like remembering the names of the students in his kindergarten class. Admiral Shoemaker, one of the individuals that we came to admire a lot, built a house in his mind nail by nail, cabinet by cabinet, room by room and then when he got out he built that house, and when we met him he was having a fight with his wife because she wanted to renovate the house and he said no way was that going to happen.
That brought home that when you exercise your brain and you don't have any outside distractions because you're in solitary, you have enormous capacities. Our research group subsequently hearing about this and others around the country have now taken a tact that through specific exercises we might be able to enhance brain plasticity, or using more of the capacity of the human brain.
For example, we now have a research study in which where through exercises, through psychological exercises are trying to retrain the circuits that are involved in depression. It's not a typical psychotherapy. It's very specifically oriented toward improving the circuits that are involved in causing human depression. So far there are some positive results around that. For certain forms of learning and memory problems, new therapies have been developed that exercise the human brain around learning and memory mechanisms. With human anxiety, practicing certain techniques that tap into the circuits and the chemistry of anxiety is now an area of focus. Mindfulness therapy is an example of that.
So that's a really emerging area to develop new therapies, non pharmacological therapies, that exercise the human brain to improve learning and memory problems and anxiety and problems with depression.
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Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
You master the fear. Then you move to the next step.