I recently posted a vlog on YouTube about an area of the brain that is extremely important for mental health professionals to know about: The insula. To see the vlog go here! As promised, I wanted to also include a blog here describing this area of the brain, what it does, and why it's important!
The Insula Explained:
The insula, or the “Interoception Center,” is the main site of interoception. Interoception is one’s ability to feel into internal experience and connect with internal sensations. For instance, feeling hungry, warm, or jittery are all examples of interoception. This too-often overlooked area of the brain is extremely important because without a strong and regulated insula, emotion identification and regulation become very difficult. Imagine, for example, that a client suffers from panic disorder. If they cannot feel into the body and be aware of the physical sensations that part of their panic, it would be extremely difficult to treat their panic disorder! This is because the experience of emotion is not simply cognitive; Emotion is always experienced in the body.
When an individual is able to “feel into” the body and connect with internal sensations, those sensations provide critical information about the emotion the individual is experiencing. The ability to do this is often called “felt sense” by trauma expert Peter Levine (2009). In different mental health conditions, however, this can be difficult for clients. In several disorders the insula is underactive, meaning that it is difficult to feel into the body and be aware of emotional experiences. In some other disorders, the insula becomes overactive, leading to a misinterpretation of bodily sensations as dangerous or catastrophic.
Thus, one goal of trauma treatment is to build a strong but regulated insula that gives accurate information about internal states. With a more regulated insula, individuals improve interoception and experience fewer emotional outbursts and dissociative symptoms (including numbing). Additionally, with a strong insula individuals are better able to feel into their own bodies, identify the emotions they are experiencing, and regulate them.
For two free insula strengthening tools you can start using right away, click HERE!
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Jennifer is a clinical and forensic psychologist, Amazon #1 best-selling author, and an internationally-recognized expert on trauma, anxiety, and the neuroscience of mental health. She is the author of the book, Trauma Treatment Toolbox. Dr. Sweeton completed her doctoral training at the Stanford University School of Medicine, the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, and the National Center for PTSD. Additionally, she holds a master's degree in affective neuroscience from Stanford University, and studied behavioral genetics at Harvard University.
This blog was originally published on January 15, 2018 and posted by Dr. Jennifer Sweeton at https://www.jennifersweeton.com/blog/2018/1/15/what-is-the-insula-the-extremely-important-mental-health-brain-structure-youve-never-heard-of