Talking to a Therapist Can Actually Rewire Your Brain

IT’S NO SECRET that going to therapy can be beneficial to mental and emotional health, but some new research is pointing out an interesting reason about why that is. A study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry found that when a therapist helps a patient challenge unhealthy thought patterns, that person shows measurable changes in their brain activity.

The study specifically looked at how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can change the connections in the brain of people who are suffering from psychosis. They not only found that therapy helped in the short term, but they also found that symptoms were still reduced eight years later.

Dr. Liam Mason, a psychiatrist who authored the study explained:

“Over six months of therapy, we found that connections between certain key brain regions became stronger. 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 is frequently used in therapy to deal with all kinds of things, including depression, anxiety, sleeping issues, relationship problems, and drug and alcohol addictions. It aims to provide a practical, goal-oriented approach for people to deal with their thought process, instead of getting stuck in the belief that a state of mind is unchangeable. In fact the way the mind works is changeable, and therefore behaviors are changeable as well.

“CBT helps people learn new ways of thinking about and responding to their difficulties. What we think makes it effective is that people can take the tools they have learned and practiced in therapy, and then continue to use them long after the therapy has ended.”

For this particular study, the researchers looked at brain imaging of patients suffering from psychosis before and after three months of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The brain scans were taken while the subjects were looking at photos of people making a variety of facial expressions. After the three-month period of CBT, the patients showed changes in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex.

The amygdala is used to process fear and threats, while the prefrontal cortex is used for reasoning and rational thinking. An increase of connections in these areas means that the patients seemed to have new perspectives on how they perceived social threats.

This is important for a couple reasons. For one thing, the study showed that it might be possible to wipe out psychosis using this type of therapy without using any medications at all. For another thing, if it’s that effective at treating full-blown psychosis, it sure looks promising for the more common mental difficulties as well. Even if you aren’t in a position to be requiring regular visits to a therapist, the knowledge that the brain is so malleable is a powerful thing to hold onto. All that stuff about your thoughts affecting your life seems pretty spot on, even more so as our understanding of the human brain deepens.