The Possibilities of Change

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People who participate in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, experience positive and enduring brain changes that coincide with improved psychological health

So far, at least 20 studies on positive brain changes after treatment for depression, anxiety disorders, chronic pain, insomnia, borderline personality disorder, etc. have been published. Drawn together, these studies show that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) alters brain function in patients suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, posttraumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder (BPD) (Karlsson, H., Psychiatric Times, 2011). This is evidence that therapy leads to changes in the brain, and these results are consistent with the same positive results reported by patients. Here are a few more studies showing similar results.

Clients often state, “My mother has depression” or “My dad has anxiety” therefore, “I am stuck with this the rest of my life”. This research proves that even though you may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety or depression or perhaps learned poor copin, through therapy you can rewire your brain!

In a recent study of healthy individuals, participation in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was associated with changes in the density of brain tissue in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking (Holzen, B., Psychiatric Research Journal, 2011). A thorough systematic review investigated neurobiological changes related to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in the treatment of anxiety disorders using brain imaging techniques. These studies revealed that cognitive-behavioral therapy modified the neural circuits involved in the regulation of negative emotions and fear in patients. (Porto, P., Journal of Neuropsychiatry Clinical Neurosciences. 2009).

In a 2004 study by Goldapple, patients undergoing CBT treatment for depression demonstrated increased activation in brain regions associated with problem solving, reasoning, planning and decrease activation in areas associated with producing emotional responses. This pattern was clearly distinct from the pattern of activation caused by medication. These results suggest that therapy may be teaching emotional regulation, problem solving, and overall greater executive functioning that leads to brain changes and better emotional well-being. (Goldapple, K. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2004)

The goal of another brain imaging study in 2003 was to study the effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) on the brain activation patterns seen in persons struggling with spider phobia. The study results showed that fear related brain regions that were activated in phobic subjects before CBT were not actvated after treatment with CBT (right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (Brodmann area-BA 10) and the parahippocampal gyrus). These findings suggest that a psychotherapeutic approach, such as CBT, has the potential to modify the dysfunctional neural circuitry associated with anxiety disorders. The results further indicate that the changes made at the mind level, within a psychotherapeutic context, are able to functionally "rewire" the brain. (Paquette, V., Neuroimage, 2003)

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