Behavioral Neuroscience for the Human Services, by Harriette C. Johnson, 2014, New York, Oxford University Press, 406 pages, $118.93, ISBN: 978-0-19-979415-7.
Dr. Harriette Johnson’s longstanding interest in neuroscience and neurobiology for the non-scientist is evident in her prior publications, as well as in her 2014 book, Behavioral Neuroscience for the Human Services: Foundations in Emotion, Mental Health, Addiction, and Alternative Therapies. Amidst the book’s 349 pages of narrative, readers can acquire immense understanding of neuroscience concepts and findings, as well as mental health treatments. Dr. Johnson writes so eloquently, metaphorically, playfully, and interestingly that social workers can easily learn concepts and use her clearly presented and amazing scientific nuggets. Social work clinicians, administrators, and educators can apply this information to their work with people who require help because of their enduring mental health disorders and emotional challenges.
The book is divided into seven parts and 49 short, palatable and fascinating chapters. Dr. Johnson uses a dialogue style that invites and engages readers to consider cutting edge science and important questions about mental health and alternative therapies. As readers peruse Johnson’s material, laced with a centerfold that includes images of the brain and inner brain, MRI scans, PET scans of adults with and without ADHD, neurotransmitters, neural circuits, and environmental stressors that excite neural systems, they gain insight as to the causes of maternal depression, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder, and so forth.
Throughout the book, social work’s biopsychosocial theoretical framework is recalled and enhanced with additional details about the paradigm shift that is occurring in mental health, as a result of significant neuroscience findings. In chapter 47, for instance, traditional, alternative, and integrative medicine approaches are addressed, as Johnson elaborates on the useful five category classification system devised by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). With aplomb, Johnson provides details on alternative medical systems (e.g. acupuncture, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine), mind-body interventions (e.g., biofeedback, relaxation, mediation, hypnotherapy, yoga), biologically based treatments (e.g., special diets, hormones, herbal products), manipulative and body-based methods (e.g., massage therapy, chiropractic medicine), and energy therapies (e.g., Reiki, qigong).
Chapter 3’s content on brain structures helps readers to understand the functioning of the pituitary gland, limbic system, amygdala, hippocampus, basal ganglia, corpus callosum, and more. Later in Part IV, chapters focus on substance abuse and addiction. The material outlines risk factors for addiction, the role of the mesolimbic dopamine pathway, and how changes in emotional memories are a “hallmark of addiction” (p. 175).
Dr. Johnson successfully describes how remarkably resilient our brains are. She reminds us how all our brains are characterized by “variation, versatility, and degeneracy,” and how different people have different genetic influences, different epigenetic sequences, different bodily responses, and different histories in environments” (p. 266). Suffice it to say that this book will thrill “thinking social workers” and help them be better assessors and implementers of services to clients.
Reviewed by Lisa E. Cox, Ph.D., LCSW, MSW, Associate Professor of Social Work, Research Chair, Stockton Center on Successful Aging, Stockton University.