Session: Social Work and Neuroscience: Using Neuroimaging to Study and Address Social Problems (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

170 Social Work and Neuroscience: Using Neuroimaging to Study and Address Social Problems

Saturday, January 16, 2016: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Meeting Room Level-Meeting Room 15 (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
Cluster: Mental Health
Symposium Organizer:
Shaun M. Eack, PhD, University of Pittsburgh
John S. Brekke, PhD, University of Southern California
For nearly half a century social work has adopted a biopsychosocial perspective to understanding and helping people in need, yet the emphasis and inclusion of biological measures within social work research has been minimal.  The rapidly advancing technology in neuroscience has made it possible for investigators in social work to include quantitative assessments of brain function, structure, and connectivity in their research at relatively low burden and cost.  These truly biopsychosocial studies are leading to exciting advances in helping some of the most underserved individuals in our society, and in many cases have generated the first applied evidence of the reciprocal nature between the brain and social environment and the influence of social work interventions on biology.  Such evidence is critical to understanding the impact of social work on the whole individual, to integrating our work with allied disciplines in medicine and the natural sciences, and to developing novel interventions that respect and address both biological and socio-environmental components to target problems.

This symposium assembles leading social work neuroscientists in the field to present the latest data on the reciprocal impact of social work interventions and the social environment on the brain and body.  The focus of this symposium will be both informative and educational, in that new data will be presented within an accessible framework that also seeks to educate the audience on incorporating neuroscience measures in their research to help address applied social work questions.  Multimodal neuroimaging data from independently conducted randomized-controlled trials and family studies will be presented to examine the impact of social work interventions for addiction and schizophrenia on the brain, as well as the contribution of mother-daughter relations to corticolimbic brain development. 

Eack and colleagues will present novel data from a randomized-controlled trial (N = 41) showing that Cognitive Enhancement Therapy can improve long-range brain connectivity in people in the early course of schizophrenia.  Black will introduce a comprehensive family study (N = 67) demonstrating the intergenerational transmission of emotion regulation neural circuitry from mothers to daughters with implications for treating mood disorders.  Garland will present the results of a large randomized-controlled trial (N = 115) of Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement for opioid misuse showing reductions in attentional reactivity and autonomic response to drug cues, along with increased brain function toward natural, non-drug rewards.  Finally, Matto will present data showing reduced neural response to drug cues in reward and emotion processing networks in a third randomized trial (N = 29) examining dual-processing therapy for substance use problems.

Taken together, these diverse biobehavioral studies of brain function, structure, and connectivity demonstrate how applied social work research can be enriched by incorporating biological measures.  The results of these studies add support to the growing body of evidence indicating that the brain is plastic, malleable by social work interventions, and reciprocally influenced by the environment, underscoring the importance of a biopsychosocial approach to social work research and practice.

* noted as presenting author
Intergenerational Transmission Patterns in the Human Brain
Jessica M. Black, PhD, Boston College
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