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How I Fell in Love with the Human Brain
By: Dr. Michelle Stangline
They say that everyone has a science that they fall in love with. I discovered my science accidentally when I was in graduate school back in 1996.
I had just graduated from Portland State University in Oregon and was taking some post graduate classes at a tiny little school called “Warner Pacific College”. I was planning on transferring a few post graduate teaching classes to Mercer University later that year once I moved back to Atlanta, Ga.
Warner Pacific College was a very tiny place that was insignificant in my mind except for one thing. It was where I fell in love with the human brain and realized I wanted to go into a career in mental health.
At the time, I was studying to become a teacher. The class I was taking was “Psychology for Teachers” and it was by far the most interesting class I had taken in my quest to become a teacher.
One day after this class was over the professor said to all the students, “Who would like to go up the hill to the medical building (We also had an M.D. program at the school) to see a human brain in person? Only two students raised their hand to go, I was one of them.
We trekked up the huge grassy hill to the medical doctor’s training building. It is always wet and damp in Oregon and I think I slipped a few of times. I remember thinking, “What the hell am I doing walking up this muddy hill to see a human brain?”
Once we got to the top of the hill I was out of breath and ready to go home. We walked into one of the rooms that resembled a make shift laboratory and the smell of formaldehyde overtook my nostrils.
My professor pointed out the large male cadaver in the corner. Some medical students were dissecting his knee. From across the room I could see the muscle tissue and bone.
I felt like I was going to faint. The other student that had accompanied us on the walk up the hill ran out of the room throwing up. Clearly, the human body was not the science for either of us.
My professor sensed my nausea and took my arm to lead me to another room. As we walked into the room I saw a large glass cylinder in the center of the room. Inside this glass cylinder was a human brain attached to a spinal cord floating in liquid.
The sun was shining in the window behind the brain in the glass cylinder and created a spectrum of magic. I swear I could hear violins playing in the background.
It was love at first sight! I was hooked on the human brain. I had found my life- long love in the world of science! My life would never be the same again.
The professor explained all the parts of the brain to me and I was mesmerized. On one of the tables they had a sliced human brain and we went to touch it. I could not believe I was touching a real human brain!!!
After having this life changing experience I realized I was going into the wrong field. I ended up getting one Master’s degree in education and getting a job in teaching. I taught elementary school for seven long years.
However, I was not cut out to teach math and reading. This was not my passion. I wanted to learn more about the human brain so I got a second Master’s degree and a doctorate degree in counseling.
My doctoral dissertation was on the human brain and Brain Spect Imagery scans. If my math knowledge had been stronger I would have become a neuroscientist.
I have never let my lack of math knowledge get in my way with researching and learning about the brain.
I continue to pursue current research on the human brain and adore teaching other’s about this incredible organ! I have taught kids, teens, and adult graduate students about the brain and brain awareness.
I actually have a “pet brain” that I use to teach students about the brain and brain awareness. I almost got arrested once taking my pet brain on the airplane to a brain awareness lecture I was giving. The security officers thought it was a bomb in my briefcase.
It is actually a plastic brain model so I understood their concern. They almost did not give it back to me until I started to tear up.
I created “Brain Awareness Therapy” because I feel it is so important to teach all mental health professionals about the human brain.
Our profession often ignores the organ we treat… the human brain. It is similar to a mechanic who does not look under the hood of a car before fixing it. I can’t remember whose quote that was, but it is true.
Why am I so passionate about the human brain and teaching others to be aware of their brain? I am not sure, but do know that my brother at seven years old had a severe traumatic brain injury when he fell off a 2 ½ story roof while playing at a neighbor’s. We thought he was dead when we found him.
When I worked in the mental institute as a case manager counselor I noticed that a lot of the mentally ill had had a significant head injury in their lifetime.
Relatives of these patients would state that their behavior gradually changed after for the worst after this trauma. It seemed that the psychiatrist did not particularly pay attention to this information.
All human beings need to understand their brains and learn brain awareness. They need to take care of and protect their brains.
We now have a great movement called “Brain Awareness Week” each March to promote brain health and wellbeing.
It is my hope that in the future humans have more access to brain scans such as the advanced MRI and the Brain Spect Imagery Scans.
These tools can help mental health professionals truly understand mental illness and treat it more effectively. These tools are very expensive and are not widely used for our patients and clients today.
Perhaps if we all learn more about the great human brain and brain awareness we can make a better future for our patient’s clients who suffer from mental illness.
Happy Brain Awareness Week!
Take Care of Your Brain!
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