Study reveals that CBT is associated with a long-term reduction in symptoms of psychosis

Here is yet another piece of evidence demonstrating how powerful CBT can be. In this case, the brain of people experiencing psychotic symptoms was shown to have strengthened neuronal connections in specific areas, following a course of cognitive behavioural therapy.

Changing brain structures with just ‘internal events’ such as thoughts or emotions happens both with positive and negative stimuli. For example, repeated depressive episodes shrink the hippocampus, a structure which affects, emotion, learning and memory. An 8-weeks mindfulness-based stress reduction program does exactly the opposite; it increases cortical thickness in the hippocampus.

CBT can have a powerful and long-lasting positive effect on people’s thoughts, behaviours, emotions, lives and brains!

Find the article in King's College London's News Channel:

"A new study from King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust has shown for the first time that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) strengthens specific connections in the brains of people with psychosis, and that these stronger connections are associated with long-term reduction in symptoms and recovery eight years later.

For individuals experiencing psychotic symptoms, common in schizophrenia and a number of other psychiatric disorders, the therapy involves learning to think differently about unusual experiences, such as distressing beliefs that others are out to get them. CBT also involves developing strategies to reduce distress and improve wellbeing.

The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, follow the same researchers’ previous work which showed that people with psychosis who received CBT displayed strengthened connections between key regions of the brain involved in processing social threat accurately.

The new results show for the first time that these changes continue to have an impact years later on people’s long-term recovery. The results show that increases in connectivity between several brain regions – most importantly the amygdala (the brain’s threat centre) and the frontal lobes (which are involved in thinking and reasoning) – are associated with long-term recovery from psychosis. This is the first time that changes in the brain associated with CBT have been shown to be associated with long-term recovery in people with psychosis.

Lead author of the study Dr Liam Mason from King’s College London, who is a clinical psychologist at the Maudsley Hospital where the research took place, said: “This research challenges the notion that the existence of physical brain differences in mental health disorders somehow makes psychological factors or treatments less important. Unfortunately, previous research has shown that this ‘brain bias’ can make clinicians more likely to recommend medication but not psychological therapies. This is especially important in psychosis, where only one in ten people who could benefit from psychological therapies are offered them.”

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