The current proposed symposium is the third of two highly-successful and well attended social work and neuroscience symposia presented at SSWR in 2016 and 2018. These symposia have gathered leading social work researchers using neurobiological assessments in their intervention research. The current symposium authors will present data from a range of neuroscience methodologies examining the biological, along with the behavioral, impact of social work interventions in vulnerable populations. The neurobioloical assessments include structural MRI of gray matter volume, functional MRI (fMRI) of brain activation, electroencephalographic (EEG) of electrical activity in the brain, and salivation as an indicator of autonomic nervous system response. The current symposium will also provide an update of recent advancements in this subfield of social work research and discuss how neuroscience-informed findings can be implemented to improve treatment.
Wojtalik and colleagues will present MRI data from a large sample of individuals with early course schizophrenia (N = 106) who participated in a multi-site randomized trial of Cognitive Enhancement Therapy (CET). This research examined the neuroprotective effects of CET on gray matter volume and subsequently linked such effects to functional outcome improvements. In a decade-long follow-up study of another trial of CET (N = 20), Eack et al. will present the first long-term follow-up findings of brain activation changes measured with fMRI 10 years after individuals with early course schizophrenia completed CET. Hanley et al. will discuss the impact of Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) on autonomic nervous system response changes measured with salivation among participants with chronic pain receiving long-term opioid therapy (LTOT; Study 1: N = 68, Study 2: N = 39). Lastly, Garland will present mechanistic evidence of reduced opioid dosing associated with increased frontal electrical activity measured with EEG during a randomized trial of MORE in veterans receiving LTOT (N = 62).
Overall, the findings from these studies increasingly support evidence that the brain is neuroplastic, reciprocally influenced by the social environment, and malleable to social work interventions. The integration of social work and neuroscience is leading to entirely new opportunities to enhance the daily lives of clients. We hope that attendees are surprised by the diverse application of neurobiological assessments represented and the feasibility of incorporating these neuroscience methods into their own research.