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The Right and Left Sides of the Brain

One of the things that determines someone’s personality and particular abilities is how right- brained or left- brained they are.


It never ceases to amaze me what a wonderful mix of unique individuals we all are. No two people are the same! Of course we know that each person is a mix of the genes that they have inherited, the experiences they have had growing up and beyond, and what they have done about that!

One of the things that determines someone’s personality and particular abilities is how right- brained or left- brained they are.

Here’s a picture of the brain, seen from the front. It looks the same on both sides doesn’t it? But we know from three sources that the left and the right sides of the brain serve different functions. The first source is that it has been discovered that people with brain damage are not able to carry out particular functions according to which part of the brain is damaged. For example, a poor unfortunate man named Phineas Gage had an accident that damaged the pre-frontal part of his brain. It left him unable to control his emotions, and turned him into an obstinate, egocentric, capricious sort of person, whereas he hadn’t been before. Someone with damage to the right side of the brain was no longer able to recognise the faces of people he knew.

The second source of evidence is one that fortunately is no longer carried out, that of experiments on animals.

The third source of evidence is Positron Emission Tomography, or PET. PET allows an image to be formed of the activity of different parts of the brain. Individuals are asked to do different tasks, such as to imagine a scene, or to do some maths, and different parts of the brain are seen to be using up fuel (glucose and oxygen) to carry out the tasks. The left side of the brain, which controls the right side of the body, is used in logical thinking like the maths, and the right side, which controls the left side of the body, is used in more imaginative tasks like building pictures in the mind.

So the left side is used when we make strategies, are logical, rational, make rules, use or learn a language, and do detailed work.

The right side is used in creating images, in creativity of whatever sort, in fantasy, with intuition, with curiosity and in chaos- sometimes it’s good to throw everything up in the air and see how things land!

However there seems to be a conversation between the two sides of the brain; they seem sometimes to work together to get a whole picture. A surgeon called Roger Sperry won a Nobel Prize for his work with epileptic brains. By cutting through the thick membrane (called the corpus callosum) between the two sides of the brain, he was able to stop epilepsy in individuals. But the patients who had this operation couldn’t put together information from both sides of the brain. Their thinking wasn’t so fluid.

Traditionally in our Western culture, the left side’s activities have been trusted and the right side’s have been mistrusted. But we know now that the left side is not the whole picture- that if the right side of the brain is brought in to problem solving, we get a more complete picture. In our work as hypnotherapists we use the right side of our clients’ brains a great deal- which is why hypnotherapy has had a rough ride. People have wanted logical proof that something is happening, and that’s more difficult in the kind of work that we achieve. But now as the medical profession see more and more great results from our work, it is beginning to be accepted. Never mind that it’s been in use since at least the Pharoahs’ Egyptian times. I don’t know about you, but I have seen quite a few clients who have tried to think and think of an answer to their problems, but can’t come up with anything. And they don’t know why. Thinking logically usually solves problems they say. I then explain that there is another completely different approach, which hypnotherapy encourages. It involves daydreaming, envisioning, imagining. And together with the logical approach, the client’s own mind comes up with solutions to their problems through hypnotherapy.

If negative thinking is holding a client back, we can of course help the client to get rid of the negative feelings born of negative experiences, in a Trauma Run. Conversely we also enable the client to think and imagine positive things about themselves and their future which help them to live that positive life that they want for themselves.

I remember watching a TV interview with Richard Branson, and the interviewer just didn’t get it. He asked RB how he came up with all those new ideas. “Well”, said Branson, “I just lie in my hammock on my island every day for about an hour and they just come to me!” “Yes, but what do you do?” insisted the interviewer. “I just lie there,” said Branson. I think he was quite enjoying flummoxing the guy.

It’s important to say that (contrary to what we may think when confronted by certain people) no-one is completely right-brained or left-brained. No-one is completely rational, or completely chaotic. But it’s possible to be dominated by one side or the other. If we find that we’re too rational for our liking, then we can indulge in Meditation or deliberate daydreaming. If we would love to be more organised there are ways of training the brain to be so, just as it’s possible to train the memory in a certain way. And of course, the great thing about CBT is that it cuts through thinking that is biased in one direction. Mind mapping is another way to use both sides of the brain. There are now systems that encourage people to take a two sided approach to things, thus getting a more complete answer, quite often used in corporate away days.