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'Talk Therapy' Can Alter Brain Activity, Research Shows

'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 brain changes.

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 group.

The study is scheduled for publication in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

"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."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Health has more about anxiety disorders.

Copyright © 2011 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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