Talking therapy changes the brain's wiring

18th Jan 2017

A new study done by researchers from King's College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust has shown for the first time that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) strengthens specific connections in the brains of people with psychosis. These stronger connections are associated with long-term reduction in symptoms and recovery 8 years later.

CBT is a type of talking therapy, involving people changing the way they think and respond to their thoughts and experiences. For people with psychotic disorders, the therapy includes learning to think differently about unusual experiences. CBT also involves developing strategies to reduce distress and improve wellbeing.

In the study, the participants underwent fMRI imaging to assess the brain's response to images of faces expressing different emotions, both before and after 6 months of CBT. The subjects were already on medication when they took part in the study, so the researchers compared their results to a group also receiving medication without CBT. The group without CBT did not show any increases in connectivity, suggesting that the effects on the brain connections could be attributed to the CBT.

In a further study done, the health of 15 out of 22 participants who received CBT was tracked for 8 years via their medical records. At the end of this period, they were sent a questionnaire to assess their level of recovery and wellbeing.

The results showed that increases in connectivity between several brain regions, the amygdala and frontal lobes, are associated with long term recovery from psychosis. This is the first time that changes in the brain linked to CBT have been shown to be associated with long term recovery. 

Future work for the researchers is to confirm their results with a larger sample, and to identify the changes in the brain that differentiate people who experience improvements with CBT from those who do not. Ultimately the results could lead to better treatments for psychosis.

To read the full article, please got to Nature website

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