'Talk Therapy' Can Alter Brain Activity, Research Shows 02/16/11
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Psychotherapy triggers
changes in the brains of people with social anxiety disorder, finds
a new study.
Medication and psychotherapy are used to treat people with
social anxiety, a common disorder in which people experience
overwhelming fear of interacting with others and of being harshly
judged. But there's been far less research on the neurological
effects of psychotherapy (talk therapy) than on medication-induced
The new Canadian study included 25 adults with social anxiety
disorder who underwent 12 weekly sessions of group cognitive
behavior therapy, which is meant to help patients identify and
challenge their unhealthy thinking patterns.
These clinical group patients were compared to two control
groups who tested either extremely high or low for symptoms of
social anxiety but received no psychotherapy.
All of the participants underwent a series of
electroencephalograms (EEGs), which measure brain electrical
interactions. The researchers focused on the amount of delta-beta
coupling, which increased with rising anxiety.
Before treatment, the clinical group's delta-beta correlations
were similar to those of the high-anxiety control group and much
higher than those of the low-anxiety control group. When measured
at a point about midway through psychotherapy, improvements in the
patients' brains matched symptom improvement reported by both
doctors and patients. After they completed psychotherapy, the
patients' EEG results were similar to those of the low-anxiety
The study is scheduled for publication in an upcoming issue of
"Laypeople tend to think that talk therapy is not 'real,' while they associate medications with hard science and physiologic change," lead author Vladimir Miskovic, a McMaster University doctoral candidate, said in a news release from the Association for Psychological Science. "But at the end of the day, the effectiveness of any program must be mediated by the brain and the nervous system. If the brain does not change, there won't be a change in behavior or emotion."
The U.S. National Institute of Health has more about
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