If you can change the way you think, you can change your brain.
That’s the conclusion of a new study, which finds that challenging unhealthy thought patterns with the help of a therapist can lead to measurable changes in brain activity.
In the study, psychologists at King’s College London show that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy strengthens certain healthy brain connections in patients with psychosis. This heightened connectivity was associated with long-term reductions in psychotic symptoms and recovery eight years later, according to the findings, which were published online Tuesday in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
“Over six months of therapy, we found that connections between certain key brain regions became stronger,” Dr. Liam Mason, a clinical psychologist at King’s College and the study’s lead author, told The Huffington Post in an email. “What we are really excited about here is that these stronger connections lead to long-term improvements in people’s symptoms and overall recovery across the eight years that we followed them up.”
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT is a psychotherapy technique that was developed in the ‘70s and is commonly practiced today. CBT targets depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses by helping patients to identify dysfunctional thought patterns and beliefs, and ultimately to replace them with healthy ones.
Overcoming Psychiatry’s “Brain Bias”
There’s a good chance that similar brain changes also occur in CBT patients being treated for anxiety and depression, Mason said.
“There is research showing that some of the same connections may also be strengthened by CBT for anxiety disorders,” he explained.
The findings challenge the “brain bias” in psychiatry, an institutional focus on physical brain differences over psychological factors in mental illness. Thanks to this common bias, many psychiatrists are prone to recommending medication to their clients rather than psychological treatments such as CBT.
“Psychological therapy can lead to changes in the mechanics of the brain,” Mason said. “This is especially important for conditions like psychosis which have traditionally been viewed as ‘brain diseases’ that require medication or even surgery.”
“This research challenges the notion that the existence of physical brain differences in mental health disorders somehow makes psychological factors or treatments less important,” Mason added in a statement.
– Carolyn Gregoire
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