Research has shown transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP) improves outcomes in people with borderline personality, but a small study suggests the treatment could actually change participants’ brains.
Borderline personality (BPD) is characterized by unstable interpersonal relationships, a chronic fear of abandonment, disturbances in identity, difficulty controlling emotions, and sometimes acts of self-harm.
People with BPD often alternate between idealizing and devaluing the people they love. They may also behave aggressively when facing fears of abandonment, and they sometimes struggle with impulsive behavior, such as compulsive shopping or substance abuse. Because BPD affects emotional control and personal relationships, it can significantly affect quality of life.
Psychotherapy to Change the Brain
Transference-focused psychotherapy uses the occurrence of transference in therapy to help people with BPD better manage their emotions and their relationships. Transference occurs when someone transfers feelings about one person to another. For example, a person in therapy might take anger toward a controlling parent out on a therapist. By helping people navigate these emotions and offering significant additional support outside of psychotherapy sessions, TFP has helped many people with BPD lead happier lives.brain, researchers recruited 10 women with BPD to participate in a year of TFP. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technique that indirectly measures brain activity by looking at blood flow and oxygenation in the brain, researchers tracked how the women’s brains changed in response to therapy.
The brain imaging tests showed increased activation in regions of the brain associated with cognitive control and decreased activation in regions of the brain associated with emotional reactivity. Previous research has shown that experience changes the brain. Researchers say this study shows psychotherapy can also change the brain.
The study was published in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.
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