Saturday, March 12, 2011

More evidence that talk therapy can change physically change your brain

I'm the first to admit that I didn't pay close enough attention in in my grad-school neuropsych class. No, wait, that's not exactly true. I paid plenty of attention - there was just a little too much hard science for this abstract thinker to wrap his mind around.

Regardless of my deficits in distinguishing my ass from my amygdala, I'm pretty good at observing and facilitating behavior change. And, in my line of work, sometimes it's nice to get a little scientific backup to what I've been saying all along - there's a lot more to talking about what's bugging you than just words. At its best, talk therapy will actually make permanent changes in the physical structure of your brain.

An upcoming article in the journal Psychological Science details a recent Canadian experiment with people diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. Through EEG readings, researchers showed a pattern of physical brain change without the administration of drugs (or cackling, demented scientists with wild hair performing experimental brain surgery while strongly lit from below, for that matter). This study is the latest in an expanding line of research bolstering talk therapy as a viable, "real" choice for longterm, positive brain change.

The article announcing the study concludes with a quote from the lead researcher that neatly encapsulates the idea of talk therapy and physical change.
"Laypeople tend to think that talk therapy is not 'real,' while they associate medications with hard science and physiologic change," lead author Vladimir Miskovic, a McMaster University doctoral candidate, said in a news release from the Association for Psychological Science. "But at the end of the day, the effectiveness of any program must be mediated by the brain and the nervous system. If the brain does not change, there won't be a change in behavior or emotion."

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