Many people think that psychotherapy can only have a minimal effect on people’s lives, but compelling research shows that talk therapies result in meaningful change that diminishes symptoms and improves functioning — and can lead to significant transformations in brain function.
Numerous studies that monitor brain neural activity using positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or other functional imaging techniques have demonstrated that various forms of therapy for mental disorders result in regional brain changes.
Cognitive behavior therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and interpersonal psychotherapy have been shown to change brain function in patients with major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
Remarkably, these studies have often demonstrated similar brain alterations after psychotherapy and medication. In most cases, the brain region affected reflects the different method of intervention.
Therapies that improve a patient’s ability to solve problems will alter neural circuits in brain regions controlling thinking and reasoning. In studies of the effectiveness of cognitive therapy for depressed patients, frontal lobe brain regions involved in cognitive control are altered.
By contrast, antidepressant medicines in depressed patients will change neural circuits in the amygdala, a brain region that controls human emotions.
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