In a small research trial published in Translational Psychiatry, just nine weeks of online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) decreased brain volume in participants experiencing social anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 15 million Americans experience social anxiety, which produces excessive fear of embarrassment, judgment, and shame in social situations. Many people with social anxiety feel too anxious to seek help, with 36% experiencing symptoms for 10 years or longer before pursuing treatment. Social anxiety often begins early in life, with an average onset age of 13.
Online CBT for Social Anxiety
Swedish researchers from Linköping University led the study, with the assistance of colleagues from other Swedish universities. The team worked with 26 people whose diagnostic interviews and answers to online questionnaires met criteria for social anxiety. Though eight participants were taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) to control their anxiety, their dose was stable for at least three months prior to the study. Each participant underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study before and after the study.
MRI scans at the end of the study showed a decrease in both brain volume and activity in the amygdala, a brain region associated with memory, emotional regulation, and decision-making. Participants also reported a decrease in symptoms of social anxiety.
This study is just one among a group of studies the authors hope to produce. Because the study is relatively small, further research is necessary to better understand the psychological and biological effects of treatment.
- Brain volume changes after CBT. (2016, February 3). Retrieved from http://www.liu.se/forskning/forskningsnyheter/1.669804?l=en
- Månsson, K. N., Salami, A., Frick, A., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., Furmark, T., & Boraxbekk, C. (2016). Neuroplasticity in response to cognitive behavior therapy for social anxiety disorder. Translational Psychiatry, 6(2). doi:10.1038/tp.2015.218
- Social anxiety disorder. (2015, June). Retrieved from http://www.adaa.org/social-anxiety-disorder
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