Cognitive behavioural therapy can change your brain structure in just a few weeks

    8 February 2016

    After nine weeks of cognitive behavioural therapy, the brain of patients suffering from social anxiety disorder changes in volume, according to research carried out by Linköping University in Sweden.

    The scientists behind the research, which has been published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, discovered that anxiety is reduced, and parts of the patients’ brains decrease in both volume and activity. They say that their study could help develop more effective therapies for social anxiety, which is one of the most common problems in mental health.

    The brains of patients were examined with magnetic resonance imaging scanners before and after treatment. Researchers found that in patients with social anxiety disorder, brain volume and activity in the amygdala (a core part of the brain that is involved in the processing of memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions) decreased as a result.

    The study of 26 individuals is unique in that it investigates multiple factors simultaneously: post-treatment changes in both brain volume and activity. The researchers say their next goal is to find out at what point during the treatment the change in the brain occurs.

    The study’s lead author Kristoffer Månsson said: ‘The greater the improvement we saw in the patients, the smaller the size of their amygdalae. The study also suggests that the reduction in volume drives the reduction in brain activity.

    ‘Although we didn’t look at that many patients, this work provides some important knowledge — especially for all the sufferers. Several studies have reported that certain areas of the brain differ between patients with and without anxiety disorders. We’ve shown that the patients can improve in nine weeks — and that this leads to structural differences in their brains.’

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