Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can produce long-term changes in brain connections, according to a study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry. The study is a follow-up to an initial trial that assessed preliminary psychotherapy-induced brain changes.
Previous studies also suggest psychotherapy can change the brain. One study found online CBT produced brain changes in people with social anxiety. Another study found transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP) could alter brain behavior in women with borderline personality.
Studying Therapy’s Effect on the Brain
The study assessed the role of cognitive behavioral therapy for psychosis (CBTp) in changing behavior and brain connectivity. In an earlier study, researchers used CBTp with 22 participants. Each of the participants also took antipsychotic medications. Before and after six months of therapy, investigators administered functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans while participants looked at images of faces expressing various emotions.amygdala, a brain region associated with emotion. Brain regions associated with processing threatening stimuli also showed connectivity changes. People with psychosis often hold false threatening beliefs about people or objects attempting to harm them.
Long-Lasting Brain Changes Associated with CBT
The latest study followed up on the original results eight years later. Researchers looked at 15 participants’ monthly symptom ratings since the original study. Participants also provided subjective assessments of their recovery.
Participants who experienced changes in brain connectivity continued to experience relief eight years later. This suggests therapy can change the brain, and the changes are likely to be long-lasting. Because the changes were connected to measurable differences in brain connectivity, the study points to a correlation between brain functioning and experiences of psychosis.
Most studies of therapy-related brain changes have been small, but when taken together, they point to the power of therapy to produce behavior-altering brain changes.
- Mason, L., Peters, E., Williams, S. C., & Kumari, V. (2017). Brain connectivity changes occurring following cognitive behavioural therapy for psychosis predict long-term recovery. Translational Psychiatry, 7(1). doi:10.1038/tp.2016.263
- Talking therapy changes the brain’s wiring, study reveals for first time. (2017, January 17). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170117101436.htm
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